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Lady Jays: It's not easy being Three

The Minnesota West women's basketball team, ranked No. 3 in the nation, keeps on fighting to manage high expectations

Minnesota West forward Tia Murray (32) goes to the basket against MState in a recent college women's basketball game. The Lady Jays are ranked third in the nation and continue to fight to remain breathing that lofty air.
Minnesota West forward Tia Murray (32) goes to the basket against MState in a recent college women's basketball game. The Lady Jays are ranked third in the nation and continue to fight to remain breathing that lofty air.
Tim Middagh/The Globe
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WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West Lady Jays basketball coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka reminds herself constantly not to over-coach her nationally ranked college team. Her assistants remind her, too.

Hayenga-Hostikka, herself a nationally recognized basketball star during her own playing days, finds it hard to sleep some nights because she’s got this unusually gifted team and she can’t stop thinking about finding the answer to every possible obstacle standing in the way of success.

“My mind is just racing all the time,” she admits.

What do we need to work on? This next team is gonna do this; how do I counter it?

It’s not easy feeling like you’re in a high-stakes chess match that never takes a time-out, but then again, not everyone coaches a basketball team ranked No. 3 in the nation. Hayenga-Hostikka has always been an intense, high-energy competitor. And some might find it ironic that her team also possesses those qualities somewhat independently of the coach. God has a sense of humor, perhaps.

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The Minnesota West women’s basketball team owns a 19-1 record and faces two of its biggest regular season tests today (Saturday) and Wednesday.

Today the Lady Jays are on the road in LaCrosse, Wis., to play Western Tech. Tech, which is just one game behind West in the conference standings, is ranked No. 14 in the juco ranks.

Then on Wednesday the Jays host Rochester, which is only the top-ranked team in the nation. The Yellowjackets have five third-year players back on their 2022-23 team (thanks to Covid).

But so far, so good for the Lady Jays, who started the season as the nation’s fourth-ranked team and have actually moved up one spot.

That’s not to say the season, thus far, hasn’t been weird at times. The Lady Jays opened the campaign with three one-sided victories -- 90-51, 107-43 and 104-61. Next, they were severely tested in a 79-78 win over Northwestern JV, but they followed that up one day later with an 84-66 loss to Dordt JV where they were unusually out of sync. On Dec. 29, they took on all they could handle against NSDCS, which resulted in a 105-101 overtime victory.

They played a strange game on Jan. 11 against MState-Fergus Falls that resulted in an 86-58 win. In the first half the Lady Jays were so good, they looked like they could beat a top WNBA team. But as good as they were in the first half, they struggled in the second half when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Last Wednesday, they went on the road to beat Ridgewater 92-18 in a game that had running time the entire second half. Hayenga-Hostikka tried to go easy, but it was a hard thing to do.

“This has been the craziest year,” said the coach. “All we do in practice is push the floor, go, go, go. And then you have a game where we have these big leads and get into situations that you don’t really know what to do. I don’t want to be a jerk. It’s a dilemma.”

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HIGH RISK, HIGH REWARD

You might say the Lady Jays have taken on the personality of their coach, whose aggressive, hard-charging mentality began when she was an eighth-grader starting for the Worthington High School team. But that’s not really the story. Hayenga-Hostikka’s players naturally play that way, and in fact it’s difficult for them to compete any other way.

There have been times, Hayenga-Hostikka says, that when she’s told her players to take it easy on an outclassed opponent, they’ve given her strange looks on the floor as if to say, “I don’t know how to do that.” Tell them to not drive to the basket, and instead to just run their plays in open space? It goes against their grain.

At other times, when the game is competitive, West’s women can become more aggressive than necessary. Maybe even a little out of control at times.

Hayenga-Hostikka still yells from the bench, “Go! Go! Go!” to get the fast-break going. But at the same time she also might say, “Take care of the basketball!”

The Lady Jays aren’t always able to check both boxes.

“I feel like it’s me in a nutshell. It’s kind of the high risk, high reward. We’re going to have a few turnovers, that’s just the way it is. We have those kinds of kids that are just all-aggressive, so we have to live with some of the mistakes,” said the coach, adding, “Sometimes when they’re attacking, they get in each others' way. They want to get to the basket so much.”

Generally, the Lady Jays experience the majority of their challenges against teams that handle the press well. When Minnesota West can’t get its transition game going on defense, it is forced to play a half-court game.

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“We just have that attack mentality,” said Hayenga-Hostikka, which means the Jays would much rather drive to the hoop than sit back and hit the 3-point shot.

And if there’s one thing that the team hasn’t done particularly well this winter, it’s hit the 3. The 3-point shooters are there. It just hasn’t been a priority.

TEAM PLAYS TOGETHER

Minnesota West is fortunate to have veteran sophomores, athletic freshmen and devoted role players to forge this remarkable season.

Two teammates on last year’s Worthington High School squad, freshmen Olivia Hayenga and Brooklyn Scheitel-Taylor, have been big breaths of fresh air. Scheitel-Taylor is a point guard who sets up her teammates, piling up assists and steals and rebounding much better than her slender 5-7 frame would otherwise allow.

“Brooklyn especially, she’s that kind of person that makes us go. She never shoots the ball. Sometimes you don’t notice her,” Hayenga-Hostikka said.

Nevertheless, Scheitel-Taylor sees the whole floor and usually shows up big in the stat line.

Hayenga, the coach’s niece, is a dynamic go-getter on both ends -- harassing opposing ball handlers continually and making unlikely steals that she often turns into layups. She can score from anywhere on the floor.

Sophomore Tia Murray, a 6-0 forward from Elkhorn, Neb., is a floor leader who scores and rebounds big.

“I can’t say enough how good of a leader Tia’s been this year. She can take over a game, too. And she’ll tell you, ‘I’m open, and you better get me the ball,’” Hayenga-Hostikka said.

Perhaps the team’s best blue-collar worker is another former Trojan, sophomore Madisyn Huisman, who’s points and rebounds often come in unexpected ways.

“Madisyn just has this uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time,” said her coach.

MORE FROM DOUG WOLTER
Trailing at halftime, the Worthington High School girls basketball team outscored Albert Lea 49-27 in the second half Thursday night in Worthington
A showdown between two of the top-ranked Division III women's basketball teams went the way of No. 1 Wednesday night
Southwest Minnesota Christian girls basketball player Makenna Moss helps the school continue a culture of winning

There’s also sophomore Dannyn Peterson, from Tulare, S.D., whose ability to score and rebound only add to the Lady Jays’ excellence. Her toughness and athleticism are notable, and she does many of the little things that don’t always show up in the stat book.

Role player Dasia Potter is one of the team’s top outside shooters. Her 3-pointer with one second remaining in the fourth quarter of the NDSCS game allowed overtime to happen. Hattie DeVries (Roseville) and Audrey Drapeau (Fort Thompson, S.D.) help keep the team humming.

Hayenga-Hostikka said it’s a satisfying feeling to have a team ranked No. 3 in the nation. And it’s about time.

“Minnesota West has never, I feel, gotten some of the national recognition that we’ve earned in the past,” she said. “I told (my players), this group right here, especially those three sophomores, you’ve kind of put Minnesota West on the map. So I think it’s kind of neat.”

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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