Lady Jays back at state
Two years after an 0-23 campaign, the Minnesota West Lady Jays basketball team is back in the state tournament. A trip that is a relief to the players. "We really haven't been to state in such a long time that it was exciting for Coach (Mike Fury...
Two years after an 0-23 campaign, the Minnesota West Lady Jays basketball team is back in the state tournament.
A trip that is a relief to the players.
"We really haven't been to state in such a long time that it was exciting for Coach (Mike Fury) and a relief for us," said West's Amanda Nash.
Minnesota West (12-14), winners of its last two games, is hoping for a long stay in Willmar when it opens Minnesota Community College Conference tournament play against Itasca (20-5), champions of the Northern Division, Friday at 8 p.m.
"When you get into the tournament, you hope to put three good games together," MW head coach Mike Fury said. "Whether you play the toughest first or the toughest last, it's a three-game series.
"I think if we play well, we can play with anybody."
Minnesota West is currently averaging 63 points per game, mostly due to the leadership of Krista Beek. The sophomore leads the team in scoring at 20.4 points per game, and is also tops in rebounding (9.5 per contest).
Beek's ability to play both inside and on the perimeter make her a difficult player to defend. Her success, though, leads to higher expectations, something the team tries to avoid saddling her with.
"Sometimes, we maybe take it for granted that she's going to get 20 a game," Fury said.
Her front line teammate, sophomore Laura Bents, has also turned in solid numbers this year, averaging 8.2 points and 8.0 rebounds.
As much as the sophomores -- which also includes Katie Dekker (7.9 points per game) -- contribute on offense, everything starts at the point guard position, where freshman Jitara Brame has taken on the responsibilities well, posting a team-best 4.5 assists per contest.
"We expect a lot of our point guard," Fury said. "It's been a learning process for her, too. As a freshman, it's hard to step into the point guard role."
The Lady Jays have also turned into a threat from the 3-point line, where Nash has connected on 38 attempts this season. Nash has developed a fearlessness when shooting the 3, something that developed from her experience at a summer tournament.
During the tournament, held in Hull, Iowa, coach Cerci Mahone urged her to utilize the 3-point shot more, instead of going into the paint. The plan has carried through to this West season, but there have been a couple times where she reverted to her old style of driving to the hoop more.
"I've done that a couple times and Coach told me I had to stay out of there," she said.
Along with Nash, Dekker and Brittany Williams offer the Lady Jays a trio of 3-point shooters that, on any given night, can put up solid numbers, helping to take the pressure off of Beek.
Against Itasca, though, everything will have to go right. The Vikings bring in the Northern Division's second-highest scoring offense (72.3 points per game), including two of the top three scorers in the division -- Tarah Geisler (18.3 ppg) and Kari Virkus (17.3 ppg and 14.4 rpg).
Controlling those two while on defense will be the main key to whether Minnesota West's stay is a short one, or if it can last through Sunday's championship game.
"If we can match up a little bit better than we did up there," Fury said, referring to their first meeting of the season when Itasca won, 78-60, on Dec. 9, "I think we're up to the task."