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Killdeer’s new head coach brings excitement into program

Press File Photo Killdeer senior forward Calum Blankenship, right, is being guarded by Heart River senior Tyson Kudrna during last year’s Roughrider Tournament on Dec. 11, 2012 at Knights of Columbus Activities Center.

New season, new coach, new outlook.

After finishing 7-13 last season, the Killdeer boys basketball team is taking advantage of its fresh start in hopes of a stronger finish.

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With a 1-1 record so far, first-year head coach Andrew Murphy said he’s already see a big change in his team’s performance on the court from when they first started practicing.

“From the middle of November to now we’ve seen a lot of improvement on offense and defense,” he said. “Our guys can actually dribble the ball now, shoot some free throws, our defense has picked up a lot. I know last year they said they didn’t have the fundamentals so that’s what we went to right away this year.”

Murphy may be new to coaching basketball, but is no stranger to coaching. Before accepting the head coaching job, he was the assistant track and field coach for Killdeer. He admits it is an adjustment, but his assistant coaches have been there to help every step of the way as well as other coaches from around Region 7. After last season’s poor finish and early exits at the District 14 Tournament — the Cowboys lost to Richardton-Taylor 55-53 and Hazen 74-46, respectively — Murphy’s goal for his team is to improve its overall game, with an emphasis on defense.

“We want to improve our game. We want to work on our defense, our defense is what’s going to take us places,” Murphy said. “We’re long, lengthy and athletic so if we can play good defense this year we will be fine.”

Killdeer only returns two players with varsity experience, senior 6-foot-3 forward Calum Blankenship and junior 5-9 guard Trenton Rohr. Blankenship averaged 12.8 points per game, while Rohr supplied 10.8. Tuesday afternoon at the 43rd annual Roughriders Tournament, both players showed off their scoring talents with double-digit points finishes. Blankenship had a game-high 24 points, while Rohr added 10.

Although the team is predominantly made up of seniors (three) and juniors (seven), Murphy is relying on Blankenship and Rohr to be his leaders on the floor.

“They’re the only guys who really have any varsity experience,” Murphy said. “Most of our guys mostly played JV and came in at scrub time so they’ve kind of been our leaders this year on the floor — because Trenton has been playing as a freshman and Calum has been playing as a sophomore. So we kind of look to them as our leaders on the floor.”

Some notable newcomers to the varsity level are sophomore center Hayes LeMieux (6-4) and junior guard Lewis Dobitz (6-1). Murphy considers Dobitz the team’s “defense stopper” because of his athletics, lengthy build and can guard any player on the court. LeMieux uses his size to his advantage and blocks shots with ease. His assertiveness and presence in the middle for the Cowboys is valued “when the guards come in (and) they’ll get scared of him.”

“He does it all the time, and the thing’s with that is he’s disciplined when he does it,” Murphy said about LeMieux’s blocking abilities. “He doesn’t fly out of control, he actually stays on the ground and waits for them to go up.”

With a split record and a team with so much potential, Murphy so far is pleased with the Cowboys and happy so far they’ve been quick to make adjustments and learn from previous mistakes, something all coaches hope for in a team.

“The kids listen very well,” Murphy said. “They’re all very coachable so whatever you say they’ll do.”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.