—by Todd Thorson

The Norsemen girls lost to a team they should have beaten, and then defeated a team that perhaps they should not have, as they split their two games last week. The Norse didn’t play well at all on Tuesday night (Dec. 10) at home against Saydel. But coming off that tough loss, and with a new-found attitude, the R-S girls emerged with an upset win over a preseason top 15 team in PCM 69-60 in Story City Friday night (Dec. 13).

The split put the Norsemen at 2-4 for the season and 2-3 in the Heart of Iowa Conference.

Saydel 40, R-S 31

The Norsemen played well in the first half, but then they "totally fell apart" in the second half, as a disappointed Coach Justin Morton explained why:

"We didn’t control the things we can control, such as our attitude, effort and communication," he said, "and it basically cost us the game."

The Norse girls led 9-6 over Saydel at the quarter break, and even held a 20-16 advantage at halftime. But it all came unraveled after the break. One sometimes wonders why such things happen in this game, and when they do, to and explain why is often a a "head scratcher". Following the game, which saw the Norse score only 11 points in the second, compared to 24 for the visitors, Coach Morton had a one-way conversation with the girls.

"I told them how we can’t let the scoreboard dictate our effort," he stated, "(and) on how we have to focus on controlling the things we can control and let the score of the game take care of itself."

In the end, Natalie Vance led the Norsemen with 17 points, including 3 of 4 from beyond the three-point line. Taylor Olson contributed eight points. Alexa Whipple added three, and Lexi Crutchfield, Brittany Hammes and Brooke Staker each added a free throw.

The Norse shot poorly from the floor, hitting only 11 of 38 for 29 percent. Saydel was not much better, going 15 for 46 for 33 percent. The Norsemen did out-rebound Saydel 28-20, but 23 turnovers by the home team was another negative mark in the box score. Olson led the Norse with six rebounds, while Vance and Hammes each grabbed five boards. Vance also dished off four assists.

R-S 69, PCM 60

Coming off a dismal performance three nights earlier, Coach Morton didn’t know what to expect against an always-tough opponent like PCM. But Friday night (Dec. 13) in Story City, a couple of good practices following the Saydel loss obviously paid off, as the Norsemen’s attitude, effort and communication skills quickly improved; well enough to post a 69-60 upset victory over the visiting Mustangs.

"We focused on our consistency in practice, with making each other accountable for their (attitude, effort and communication with one another)," said Morton. "We talked a lot about how to handle adversity in the middle of the game, about being part of the solution by fixing the problem, instead of making it worse by pouting about it."

Coach Morton prompted his girls to change their focus for this contest. He challenged them to compete at a higher level than what PCM brought to the table. And they responded admirably.

Following a 32-24 advantage at halftime, the Norse stretched that lead to 48-37 by the end of the third quarter. The R-S girls continued to fight hard in the final frame, and managed to hold off the Mustangs in the end by nine, 69-60. The result was an all-around, full four-quarter effort; the Norsemen’s best performance of the season.

Natalie Vance scored 34 point6s, including 16 of 18 from the free throw line. Her strong effort tied the single game scoring record at Roland-Story, set by Maddie Oliver in 2011. Brooke Staker and Brittany Hammes also scored in double figures, hitting for 14 and 12 points, respectively. Taylor Olson and Alexa Whipple each added four points. And Kirsten Waline tallied a free throw. Courtney VanHouweling also scored 34 points to lead PCM.

Olson and Vance each grabbed seven rebounds for the Norse, as the home team out-rebounded their opponents 31-22. Whipple also hauled down six, while Staker and Lexi Crutchfield each grabbed four caroms.

"I was extremely proud of my girls, with how they met this challenge," said a pleased Coach Morton. "We out-worked PCM for nearly the entire game and focused more on the process of playing the game than on what the outcome may or may not be. The result was we played four complete quarters, and (quite) possibly four of the best, all-around quarters I’ve been a part of since I started coaching here."

The Roland-Story Coach has been reiterating time and time again with his Norse girls about playing with confidence and believing in their abilities; about using those abilities to perform their best on the basketball court. And it paid off last Friday night. There was nothing unlucky about this Friday, the 13th; "luck" went all Roland-Story’s way against a strong PCM team.

"We had a lot of girls step up in this game and use that confidence and those abilities (we talked about)," Morton continued. "It was a beautiful thing to see as a coach, to see my girls playing with confidence, poise and passion throughout the game. They played the game the way it is meant to be played, and the way I’ve always believed we could. I couldn’t have been more proud as a coach to have been a part of such an outstanding game, with such a great group of girls!"

The Norse shot the best they have all season, hitting 19 of 40 shots for 47.5 percent. PCM was only 22 of 59 for 37 percent. Roland-Story also went to the free throw line 34 times in this contest, hitting 24. The Mustangs were only 10 of 21 at the line.

The Norse girls hoped to continue with that confidence and positive attitude, as they traveled to rival Gilbert last night (Tuesday), before Friday night’s year-ending match up with Colfax-Mingo on the road. The holiday break will unfold following Friday’s contest, with action resuming on Saturday, January 4 against Nevada at home.