MW WOMENS BASKETBALL: Lady Jays: The Fulda Connection
COON RAPIDS -- It wasn't until late July that Tiffany Gehl finally made her decision to come to Minnesota West to play basketball for coach Mike Fury.
But no matter how late the decision was made, Gehl and the Lady Jays can't be happier with the decision as they sit on an eight-game winning streak heading into the MCAC Region 13A playoffs this weekend.
"I've really loved playing here with these girls," Gehl, who was named NJCAA DIII Player of the Week after averaging 35.5 points over the last two games, said. "Everyone is fitting into their roles and we have just begun to hit on all cylinders now."
One of the driving forces behind Gehl's choice to attend Minnesota West this last fall was the fact that two of her old teammates from Fulda High School (Brittany Hulstein and Jes Hermeling) were already playing for the Lady Jays.
"I had at first planned on going to a different school to run cross country and track," Gehl said, "but I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in yet.
"When Brit and Jes heard I wasn't sure about where I wanted to go, they told me to come to Minnesota West because it was really fun to play here."
The three Fulda Raiders have been playing together for a long time, as far back as the fifth grade for both Hermeling and Hulstein.
"I have known Brit since I was in fifth grade," Hermeling said. "We played basketball, softball and volleyball together. When we were older, Tiffany moved up from a lower team and we've been playing together since."
Hulstein also remembers the good old days, especially when she was in high school with Gehl and Hermeling.
"It was good playing with them in high school," Hulstein said. "Tiff was a post player, so I was always looking for her and dished it to Jes if I needed to."
One thing Hermeling has enjoyed the most about getting to play with two of her old teammates is the level of comfort she has when the three of them are on the court together.
"I feel really comfortable when I am on the court with those two," Hermeling said. "We know how each other plays the game and that makes it easier to find each other during games."
Now that the trio of Raiders have been reunited at Minnesota West, it is easy to see the chemistry they share with one another, as well as the rest of the team, and how it has spurred the Lady Jays high-scoring offense.
"This group of girls played on the volleyball team together this last season and the chemistry is great," MW coach Mike Fury said. "The chemistry is as good as I have ever seen it. That is not just with the three Fulda girls, but with the whole team."
However, the Lady Jays' offense wasn't always the well-oiled machine it is now, especially at the beginning of the season when a new crop of freshman was getting acclimated to the rigors of college basketball.
"At the beginning of the year, Tiff and Lindsey [Drooger] weren't confident in themselves, so I felt like I was relied on more to score points," Hulstein said. "But now that they have seen the competition, I don't need to score as much and I can just dish it off to them. It is nice to have that."
After losing three of their first four games of the season, the Minnesota West Lady Jays have been on a tear, partly due to the emergence of Gehl and Drooger as consistent scoring threats.
"I never thought of myself as a scorer," Gehl said. "In high school, I was always the one finding other people and getting them the ball. But a lot of the credit for my scoring has to go to my teammates who have been able to find me all over the court."
One of the main reasons the Lady Jays are so hot is the fact that they boast three of the top-five scorers in the conference in Gehl, Hulstein and Drooger.
"We have good balance with our four leading scorers," Fury said. "But even Jes [Hermeling] has come in and hit a couple buckets, and Katherine [Kazemba] can do that too. We are just playing so well as a team."
Another reason is that each player knows what her role is on the team and what she needs to do game in and game out.
"It took us a while to know what are roles were at the beginning of the season," Hermeling said. "But now, we are confident in each other and we know we can rely on each other in any situation."
Not only have the Lady Jays won 18 of their last 21 games, but they also secured the No. 1 seed in the NJCAA Women's Basketball Region 13A Tournament and face Minnesota State-Fergus Falls today at 8 p.m. in Coon Rapids.
"This weekend we have to play good defense," Fury said. "We've said all along that our offense will take care of itself, so defense and rebounding might be the key to this game."
As with every sport, the playoffs are like a brand new season where all bets are off and anything goes. And that is why Fury is glad that he has the threesome of Raiders on his side heading into the postseason.
"They are a huge part of this team," Fury said. "To have those three join us is a luxury and that is great. Jes and Brittney have come back as sophomores and really given us good leadership on and off the court. They work hard and have worked hard for us for two years.
"That is a good program up in Fulda; Coach Gregg Slaathaug's got a good thing going up there. We are glad that they are here."