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Cougars focus on offense in early goings

Like Killdeer, and a few other teams in the region, the Heart River girls basketball team lost a lot of senior talent. As the Cougars and the Cowboys squared off at the Roughrider Tournament on Dec. 4, the teams battled it out until the reigning ...

Heart River sophomore guard Caylee Wilke defends a shot in a Region 7 quarterfinal against Hazen on Feb. 19 at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center. (Press File Photo)
Heart River sophomore guard Caylee Wilke defends a shot in a Region 7 quarterfinal against Hazen on Feb. 19 at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center. (Press File Photo)

Like Killdeer, and a few other teams in the region, the Heart River girls basketball team lost a lot of senior talent.

As the Cougars and the Cowboys squared off at the Roughrider Tournament on Dec. 4, the teams battled it out until the reigning Region 7 champion Cowboys won 41-38. Thankfully for Heart River, that game didn't count in the region standings, but they'll get another crack at Killdeer at home at 7 p.m.

"When we played the first time, we definitely didn't shoot the ball well," Heart River head coach Ronnie Stewart said. "I think it'll be another good game come Friday. ... We've cleaned up a few things on defense. We're rotating better. If we're just able to stay out of foul trouble, that's what kind of hurt us too."

Following the loss of four skilled seniors, the Cougars look to two key junior returners in Laken Jacobson and Afton Shypkoski.

In the Region 7 third-place game, which Heart River lost 38-29 to Hettinger-Scranton, Shypkoski and sophomore Jersey Filkowski were the only non-seniors to score, each contributing two points.

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"Our top-2 leaders are Afton Shypkoski, she's a guard/forward for us, a little-bit-of-everything kind of person," Stewart said. "Laken Jacobson, just bringing the ball up, being able to pressure on defense. She's our mass communicator. Just everything about those girls contributes to our success."

Also coming up in the ranks are junior Jocelyn Baranko, sophomore Caylee Wilke, who got some varsity time last year, and freshman forward Lelani Privratsky.

"That's what good about us, we're deep," Stewart said. "Not every one of them are 'A' players yet, but we're all very evenly-matched from players 3-9, to be honest. Caylee Wilke has proved to be able to shoot the ball well for us, get the ball in transition. She handles the ball well for us."

The Cougars offense is a 'work in progress' since so few so starting varsity time last season. Stewart is aiming to run an inside-out offense, but inexperience under the basket has made it challenging.

"We have three freshmen and a sophomore that are all posts that are big bodies and can rebound. We just got to keep improving their footwork," Stewart said. "We want to start working the ball inside out, but that's been proven to be fairly difficult. ... So we're trying really quick ball reversals, get a lot of movement, try to wear down the defense."

On the other side of the court, the Cougars have been solid. In their two wins, they've limited teams to 26 points or fewer - 53-25 over New Salem-Almont on Nov. 29, and 72-26 over Richardton-Taylor on Dec. 6.

Even in their 55-32 loss to No. 6 Kidder County on Dec. 1, the Cougars limited the Wolves, who have put up 60 or more points in three of their seven games this season.

"We're just playing man-to-man; we're playing tough man-to-man," Stewart said. "Trying to stress strong help side and taking away dribble penetration."

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Heart River junior guard Laken Jacobson brings the ball up court during a Region 7 quarterfinal game against Hazen on Feb. 19 at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center. (Press File Photo)
Heart River junior guard Laken Jacobson brings the ball up court during a Region 7 quarterfinal game against Hazen on Feb. 19 at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center. (Press File Photo)

Related Topics: HEART RIVER COUGARS
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