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Winning is contagious: Lady Jays take on Rhode Island today in the nationals

The Minnesota West women's basketball team started slowly this season, but just look at them now

Minnesota West head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka talks strategy for upcoming game with  Madisyn Huisman (5) during a Friday practice.
Minnesota West head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka talks strategy for upcoming game with Madisyn Huisman (5) during a Friday practice.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West’s entry into the 2022 NJCAA Division III women’s national tournament is a big story for both the college and the Lady Jays basketball program. But there are as many individual stories as there are players.

Here’s one: As a small-town girl from George, Iowa, Mackensie Post played on a George-Little Rock program that hadn’t won more than six games in any of her seasons there. She was a good player -- strong off the dribble, a good passer, and the team’s best scorer. She enjoyed her teammates, but the losing became demoralizing.

“I didn’t even know what it felt like to win,” she says now, looking back.

And she admitted to “kind of” falling out of love with the game that used to mean so much to her. But despite the constant losing, Post had dreams.

“I just remember in high school I just felt unfinished,” said the George, Iowa, resident on Monday. “I just felt that there was something more for me.”

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There was. And there is. Today (Wednesday, March 9) the Lady Jays’ freshman point guard will play in the national tournament in Rochester, Minn., in a 4 p.m. game against the Community College of Rhode Island. The tournament extends through Saturday, and it’s a beautiful gift for a team that began the year 0-5 but is now 17-12 with a No. 8 national ranking.

Minnesota West assistant coach Avery Van Rockel uses a bumper on Jadyn Lessman as Tia Murray (32) passes the ball to her teammate during practice.
Minnesota West assistant coach Avery Van Rockel (left) uses a bumper on Jadyn Lessman as teammate Tia Murray (32) passes the ball during practice.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“At the beginning of the season it was a rough start. It’s just kind of mind-blowing. I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet for me,” said Post, who clearly knows now what it feels like to win.

As a team, the Lady Jays can shoot, rebound and pass. And they’re balanced. Post averages 10.5 points, 3.4 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Dannyn Peterson averages 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Tia Murray scores 11.5 points with 5.9 rebounds per game. And Madisyn Huisman averages 10.3 points per game.

“I think it’s hard to scout us. If I’m looking at it right, we’ve had eight different kids who’ve led us in scoring this year,” said head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka.

In first-round opponent Rhode Island, the Jays will face a team that puts two six-footers on the floor. The Knights have an athletic point guard and a forward that connects on 49 percent from the arc.

But Hayenga-Hostikka said she’s not going to make many adjustments to the Lady Jays’ game.

“I think we’ve become comfortable with what we’ve been doing,” she said. “And they’re confident. So we’re not going to mess too much with what they feel comfortable with.”

Huisman, a 5-9 freshman and a Worthington High School graduate, smiles when asked to comment further on the team’s somewhat rigid ways.

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“At first we were struggling with what we were doing, and we were learning how to play together. Now (coach) has put in plays that we understand more, and she doesn’t want to switch it, ‘cuz we’re pretty good with the plays she put in,” Huisman said.

The last time Minnesota West qualified for a national women’s basketball tournament was 2015 under then-head coach Mike Fury -- his last year at the helm, and a year when Hayenga-Hostikka was his assistant. The Knights have been to seven national tournaments and two Final Four appearances, and they’ll take a 16-6 record with them today.

Rhode Island is seeded seventh among the 12 national tourney teams. Minnesota West is seventh. The winner of Wednesday’s game will take on No. 2 RCSJ Glouchester, which is the No. 2 seed.

“I think we could potentially do really well. I think we’re all excited to see how well we can do,” said Huisman, adding, “I’m really glad I came here. It’s been a lot of fun.”

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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