Class B Girls Basketball Roundup: Inside Beach’s fast start, Glen Ullin-Hebron ends two streaks
The Beach girls basketball team started off the season on fire.
One year removed from a seven-win season, the team needed just the first seven games of the 2018-19 campaign to match that total. Currently sitting with a 7-1 record, the Buccaneers are on pace to have the team's best season since a third-place finish in the Region 7 tournament in 2016.
"We've come together as a team so much during the off-season and it's been so much fun the connection we have between each other and the coaches," Beach freshman guard Madi Wilhelmi said. "The whole community comes together for our games, it's a great atmosphere."
Beach is one of the highest-scoring teams in the region, piling up 61 points per game; only Hettinger-Scranton averages more with 62.1. However, the manner in which the Bucs light up the scoreboard is unique. Rather than rely on one or two individuals to do the bulk of the scoring, the players spread the wealth, as Beach has had at least four players post seven or more points in every game this year.
"Everyone knows their role on our team. Everyone is able to score, so everyone looks at it as 'Why not?' The more everyone scores, the more everyone gets excited about it," Wilhelmi said.
The team's best individual performance came from sophomore forward Megan Rising, who tallied 17 points 69-60 win against New Town on Dec. 15.
As much as the offense has impressed, defense has been the key to the squad's reversal of fortune, according to head coach Mark Golberg. Relative to the match-up, the Bucs like to apply waves of full-court pressure. With that approach, the Bucs are relinquishing 14 points per game fewer than a year ago.
"We worked on (defense) a ton this offseason, the girls played a ton of games this offseason and went to a ton of camps," Golberg said. "That's the main thing we've been working on. ... For us especially, our defense turns into our offense, so we can move the ball down the court and hopefully get some quick baskets."
For all the things that has gone well for Beach, the team faces a series of obstacles that will test how far it has come along. Following a 56-47 loss at Glen Ullin-Hebron on Monday, Jan. 7, the Bucs will host region-powerhouse Bowman County on Thursday, serving as their last home game for more than three weeks.
"We need to have a tough mindset. We need to move on from games whether we win or lose, and keep getting after it," Golberg said. "We're glad we get to play Bowman at home, then we got a crazy, crazy road stretch. And honesty, I think it's good for us because we want to be one of the good teams in this region and we have to prove it. ... It starts with Bowman and going on the road for all of these games, the key to being competitive will be our mindset, and that starts with resilience, hard work and confidence."
Bearcats claw out two impressive victories
As for the team that knocked off the previously undefeated Bucs, the Bearcats understood going into the match-up that they'd be vastly undersized. With Beach possessing six girls who are 5-foot-10 or taller, Glen Ullin-Hebron neutralized its opponent with a tricky zone defense, which held Beach to its season-low point total.
"Defensively, we've kind of been making tweaks and adjustments to our 2-3 (zone) to figure out what best suits our team," Bearcats head coach Brayton Fox said. "Over the years, I've had some taller girls and be able to get away with playing a base 2-3. Now we got to change it a little bit, but the more games we have under our belt, trying this new style of the 2-3, the girls do understand it and move a little better."
Two nights earlier, Bearcats collected a 46-36 road victory at Heart River, snapping the Cougars' five-game winning streak. Nearly half of Glen Ullin-Hebron's production came from freshman guard Kinsey Zuroff, who scored a game-high 22 points.
"I drove a lot more than I usually do. This year, I started to take more charge and become more of a leader and score more out on the floor because that's kind of what my job is this year," Zuroff recalled from her performance. "So I just tried to score and every time a bucket fell, it just made me feel good, gave me more confidence to keep going and try to score more. My teammates got me the ball when I was open and it gave me the opportunities to take the shots."
The Bearcats' two victories over a pair of teams playing well are easily the team's best moments of the year. However, those moments came fresh off what was potentially a season low-point. Suffering a 50-32 road loss to an improving Beulah program on Jan. 3, Glen Ullin-Hebron treated the defeat as a wake-up call.
"Our girls have been trying to respond all year to fill in some missing pieces and find some ways to replace some very big starters that I've had the last couple of years," Fox said. "The previous week, losing to Beulah I think was kind of an eye-opener for the girls and that is not going to coming easy to them. We're going to have to work and grind out every game; it doesn't matter who we play on any given night, we got make sure we come ready to play."
On Thursday, Glen Ullin-Hebron will host Mott-Regent, who has won four of its last five games. After a contest with Shiloh Christian on Saturday, the Bearcats will close the season playing seven of their final nine regular season games at home, which may potentially set the team up with a high seed in the Region 7 tournament.
"There's going to be a lot of teams fighting for that third and fourth seed," Fox remarked. "As for No. 1 and No. 2, there's a couple of teams that have already stood out and have that already in place there, but I think the region itself is as wide-open as it can get, and there's going to be a lot of team fighting for that first-round bye. The region is up for grabs again in reality, it always has been. The four or five years, we've had different champs and it's excited because out of our region, anybody can win it on any given year."