—by Todd Thorson

R-S 58, East Marshall 31

The Norse girls’ basketball team came ready to play against East Marshall in their opening contest of the 3A Regional. After a postponement from Saturday (Feb. 15) because of weather issues, the game was rescheduled to Tuesday (Feb. 18) in Story City. The result was an impressive 58-31 victory for the Norsemen.

Running a 2-3 zone for the very first time this season, the Norse girls pulled it off rather well. After starting out a little slow defensively, the Norsemen found themselves down 19-15 at the quarter break. The offense picked up in the second quarter for the Norse as they out-scored EM 16-4 to lead at halftime 31-23.

"We had a lot of film on East Marshall playing against a zone defense, and felt like we could take away a lot of their strengths by running a 2-3 zone against them," said Coach Justin Morton. "We hadn’t run a 2-3 zone the entire year, but the girls did a great job of running the zone and matching up with East Marshall’s zone offense."

The second half went all Roland-Story’s way as the defense continued to stymie EM. The Norse held East Marshall to just eight points in the second half to win easily by 27.

Offensively, the Norsemen had one of their better nights shooting, hitting 21 of 48 for 44 percent, including eight three pointers.

"East Marshall started out in a 3-2 zone, which gave us a lot of open looks," stated Morton. "In the second half we switched to a man defense, which allowed us to get to the basket a lot, as we shot 50 percent from inside the arc."

Natalie Vance led the Norsemen with 20 points. Brooke Staker and Brittany Hammes followed with 10 and nine points, respectively. Between the two of them, Brooke and Brittany shot 5 of 11 from three point range, as they both continue to shoot well from beyond the arc. Alexa Whipple posted eight points. Even Lexi Crutchfield, who scored seven points, had her first three pointer of the season. And Taylor Olson pitched in two points, as did Kirsten Waline. East Marshall (6-16) was led by Taylor Fricke’s 18 points; 14 of which came in EM’s opening quarter. EM shot only 11 of 48 for 23 percent from the field.

"This was not just a big game because of tourney time," concluded Morton, "it was also the seniors last game at home. They’ve each contributed a lot to the program in their own way, and will be missed next year."

The senior Norse players are Brooke Staker, Traci Marienau, Natalie Vance and Paige Lowe.

Hampton-Dumont 56, R-S 44

The Norse girls had their hands full last Wednesday night (Feb. 19) at Hampton, taking on an 18-5 team in Hampton-Dumont, the top rebounding team in the state, and who had also been ranked for much of this season. Having just played the night before, the Norsemen played Hampton-Dumont tough the whole way, even leading at halftime, 29-27.

"We were able to keep them in check for much of the first half, but they got some open looks in the second half and caught fire in the third quarter," said Coach Morton. "They hit five three pointers in the third to take a 44-41 lead into the fourth quarter." The H-D girls then slowly pulled away with a 12-3 fourth quarter to win by 12, 56-44.

Despite sporting twin towers in Kennedy Wohlford (6 ft. 2 in.) and Paige Wragge (5 ft. 11 in.), the R-S defense did a number on these two for most of the game. Wohlford came into the game first in the state in offensive rebounds, fourth in total rebounds and second in blocks. Wragge led the state in rebounding. In the end, Wragge and Wohlford combined for only seven total points for H-D - five by Wragge and only two by Wohlford.

But it was H-D’s quick guards that got the job done against the Norse. Jessica Speake and Jordan Pranther each scored 17 points to lead the victors.

"We contemplated running a triangle and two defense on their two guards and using our two bottom girls in the triangle to double on their post Wohlford when she caught the ball," explained Morton. "Instead, we just ran a ‘junk’ man defense where we sagged off of Wragge and trapped Wohlford whenever she touched the ball."

Hampton ran a 2-3 zone in the first half, but the Norsemen were able to get some open looks and knocked down a few big shots to take their lead at halftime. In the second half, H-D came out and ran a 1-3 ‘chaser’ on Natalie (Vance), but R-S managed three huge threes against H-D’s 1-3 defense to force them to discontinue that alignment. Hampton then switched to a man defense, and that’s what really stymied the Norse in the second half.

"We had a really tough time freeing up shooters on the perimeter," commented Morton, "and with Wohlford on the inside, we weren’t able to get any easy looks when attacking the basket."

Natalie Vance led the way for the Norse with 18 points, including 4 of 6 threes. Taylor Olson scored nine, followed by Brooke Staker with five, Alexa Whipple had four, Lexi Crutchfield and Brittany Hammes each had three points, and freshman Samantha Janvrin added two.

"We talked before the game a lot about having nothing to lose," concluded Morton, "as Hampton was expecting to blow us out. The girl left everything on the floor (tonight), and in many ways, that’s bigger than a win. That’s an acknowledgement of how to live one’s life to its fullest; never back down and fighting for what one wants out of life. I really thought this was the first game this year where we played every second of the game fearlessly, and by leaving our blood, sweat and tears on the floor at the end of the game, no matter the score."

The Norsemen girls finished the season with an 11-12 record.