PREP GIRLS' BASKETBALL: SWC embraces the underdog roleEDGERTON — Southwest Christian’s gym is the place to be these days. SWC’s girls’ basketball team is one of two remaining area squads left in the second season and the boys’ basketball team plays today for a trip to the sub-section championship game at SMSU Saturday. The Eagles’ gym is split for practice, but both teams share the same goal.
EDGERTON — Southwest Christian’s gym is the place to be these days. SWC’s girls’ basketball team is one of two remaining area squads left in the second season and the boys’ basketball team plays today for a trip to the sub-section championship game at SMSU Saturday. The Eagles’ gym is split for practice, but both teams share the same goal.
“Our gym is an exciting place with two teams playing for state,” SWC girls’ basketball coach Denise Nerem said. “When our girls are practicing hard and the boys are slacking, the girls will yell at them from across the gym.
“It’s a friendly rivalry and they love being hard on one another. It’s a small school, so they all cheer for each other.”
The girls’ basketball squad has just one obstacle in its way from a state tournament bid. Minneota and its 26-game winning streak act as the fork in the Eagles’ road to Minneapolis.
SWC (20-5) and Minneota (28-1) will square off Friday at SMSU in Marshall at 8 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Section 3A state tournament in Minneapolis.
So how do you beat a team which hasn’t tasted defeat in over three months?
“We’re well aware of Minneota’s abilities,” Nerem said. “We’ve played them before, we have a game plan and we think we are going to execute it.”
In Minneota’s 26 straight victories, the Vikings have won games by an average of nearly 22 points, including a 13-point victory over the Eagles on Feb. 7.
Being the underdog is nothing new to SWC. As the No. 2 seed in the South Sub-Section, the Eagles felt the same disrespect playing the top-seeded Fulda Raiders.
“The win over Fulda wasn’t lucky,” Nerem said. “We came out and shot well and played a full game.
“I think my team is very deserving to be in this ball game.”
A chip on the shoulder can only do so much for a team, as the Eagles will need to execute a completely different game plan versus Minneota as it had to versus Fulda. The Raiders were an outside shooting team, which loved to press, whereas the Vikings go to the post to score and a zone defense to win. The Vikings put a wrinkle in their game plan in the sub-section championship game versus MACCRAY, as the squad used a 1-2-2 press to cruise to a 63-39 win.
“It’s kind of intimidating playing a team with this kind of winning streak,” SWC senior guard Michaela Zeinstra said. “We felt like we were the underdogs against Fulda too, but sometimes it’s easier to play when you feel like you’ve got nothing to lose. We know we can do it.
“We’re working on our post defense and breaking their 1-2-2 press. We’re getting ready for it.”
How freshman forward Taylor Reiss goes, so goes the Vikings. Reiss has scored over 20 points in each playoff game and hauled in 30 rebounds in the three games.
“Our defense is going to be way different than it was against Fulda,” senior forward Deidra Vander Woude said. “We know they don’t shoot outside a lot, so we are working on our post defense.”
Reiss is not the only option in the middle for Minneota as sophomore Molly Hennen also can score down low with her senior sister, Kelsey, running the show at the guard position.
“We’re focusing on Reiss and the Hennens,” Zeinstra said. “We’re going to have to bring help to stop Reiss and maybe even double her.”
It’s not as if SWC is a one-trick pony. The Eagles are led by SMSU-bound senior Megan DeRuyter, who averages 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds to go along with 42 percent shooting from inside the arc and 29.6 percent shooting from outside of it. DeRuyter enjoys the underdog role.
“It’s right where we want to be,” DeRuyter said. “We don’t have the target on our backs and it pushes us to want it more.”
Alongside DeRuyter is Amber Pater, who averages 13.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and Vander Woude, who nets 8.4 points per game.
In the three playoff victories for SWC, five different Eagles have scored in double figures.
“We’ve had really even scoring,” Vander Woude said. “Instead of having just one or two people score, we’ve had four or five step up and put points on the board.”
Nerem has gained more confidence in her bench with each passing game.
“I’m incredibly pleased with my bench,” Nerem said. “(Jennifer) Schmidt, (Kelly) Tinklenberg and (Julie) Bobb have put some real minutes in for us.
“They aren’t just putting up points, but just the way they are playing off the bench is big.”
SWC had some tough losses during the season, but the Eagles feel they are hitting their stride at the perfect time.
“It’s no secret that we’ve had our ups and downs with losses to Edgerton or Ellsworth,” Nerem said. “It’s girls’ basketball. Of course there are going to be ups and downs.
“We are peaking at the right moment.”
The SWC gym is filled with the idea of going to state basketball. If the Eagles win Friday, they’ll have plenty to yell across the gym at the boys’ basketball team at Monday’s practice.
“We all have our own individual goals, but we all put that we wanted to go to state,” Vander Woude said. “It would be a dream.”
For DeRuyter, winning is no dream; it’s reality.
“When we win this one, it’ll feel great,” DeRuyter said.
Daily Globe Sports Editor Chris Murphy can be reached at 376-7328.