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Entering conference season, Blue Hawks still focused on the big picture

Dickinson State head women's basketball coach Mark Graupe said his team's season began with "the toughest first six games of any team in the nation," and looking back at that stretch, it was a bit of a mixed bag.

Dickinson State senior center Megan Klein, right, makes a move in the lane against a Montana Tech defender on Nov. 5 at Scott Gymnasium. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State senior center Megan Klein, right, makes a move in the lane against a Montana Tech defender on Nov. 5 at Scott Gymnasium. (Parker Cotton / The Dickinson Press)

Dickinson State head women's basketball coach Mark Graupe said his team's season began with "the toughest first six games of any team in the nation," and looking back at that stretch, it was a bit of a mixed bag.

The Blue Hawks beat NCAA Division II Minot State twice (one was a scrimmage), plus they beat Montana Tech at home, and were able to rest their starters in a win over first-year program Yellowstone Christian.

Those three were all good.

One of the three losses was to the same Montana Tech team on the road. An eight-hour trip to face an NAIA Division I Frontier Conference opponent was a bearable defeat, leveraged Graupe.

Another was to NCAA Division I North Dakota State, when the Blue Hawks led entering the fourth quarter. That one, too, was understandable.

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But the home loss to Rocky Mountain College? Simply unacceptable.

At the time, Graupe was upset with his team. Time hasn't changed that.

"Nothing against Rocky at all, but I just found that disappointing to lose that at home," he said. "This is supposed to be a difficult place to play."

Senior Megan Klein, averaging an impressive 17.3 rebounds per game to go with 13.2 points a game, had the same basic thought.

"I'm pretty impressed with how we've done. I only regret the Rocky game at home. I think we should have won that game, but they're a good ball club, and the nice thing is that we get another shot at them," she said. "With so many seniors on this team, we want to win as many games at home as we can."

At an even 3-3 through their treacherous first six, the Blue Hawks load the buses today for a trip to conference nemesis and 10th-ranked Jamestown, then, after a night spent in Fargo, they'll travel on Saturday to Mayville State for their second NSAA contest in as many days.

The Blue Hawks last year dropped two during the regular season to Jamestown, which finished undefeated on the road and in conference, then lost again to the Jimmies in a heartbreaker at the buzzer in the NSAA championship game.

This season, DSU would like nothing more than to return to the championship game, beat Jamestown, and earn that coveted automatic bid to the national tournament.

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But with a senior-heavy team and a whole lot of season still left, the attitude entering a stretch of four conference games is about staying even keeled regardless of what happens today.

"With such an old ball club, we want to be composed. We know this weekend is huge, but also it's not everything because we got a shot at both teams again," Klein said. "We're going in thinking: Be composed, act like seniors, play like seniors. That's kind of our mindset right now."

Jamestown has been the marquee team of the NSAA for a while. It reached the quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II national tournament two years ago and hasn't been outside the Top 25 in the coaches' poll since 2011.

Over the years, and particularly last year, the Jimmies have been an arduous task for the Blue Hawks to try to figure out. But that isn't something unique to DSU.

"They're not a tough matchup for us, they're a tough matchup for everyone," Graupe said. "They have a little bit of everything. They have more speed than everyone else does, they have the shooting. They also have size. They have depth, too."

One of the things they do best, offered Klein, is the way they disrupt on defense. They get in the ball handler's personal space and create problems.

Well aware of such tactics, Graupe came up with the idea this week in practice to have the starters scrimmage against a defense with an extra person on the floor.

If there is one concern heading into the Blue Hawks' most meaningful game of the season thus far, it would be that pesky Jimmies defense.

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But to dip into Graupe's bag of cliches, this season will be a marathon, not a sprint for the Blue Hawks. In other words, a loss to the Jimmies would not blur DSU's eventual goal.

"Well, if you lose at Jamestown, then so what? You're supposed to defend your home turf," said Graupe. "If we can get a split on the road I consider that successful. Now obviously we want to win them both, but if we split, I'd take that."

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