Inconsistent play led to 13-11 record for Tigers
Going into the season, Bill Dent thought the Nevis girls basketball team had the talent to contend for the Northwoods Conference title and make a run at reaching the Section 5A championship game.
Despite returning four starters from last year’s team that went 18-10, the Tigers fell short of those goals by finishing tied for third in the conference standings and ending the season with a 13-11 record after being eliminated in the tournament opener.
“We had an up-and-down season. Our expectations were set high coming off from the previous season,” said Dent, who concluded his second season as the Tigers’ head coach. “We wanted to push Pine River-Backus for the conference championship and I thought we would have a chance to win a couple of playoff games and possibly contend for a subsection and section title. Unfortunately, for a number of different reasons, we were not able to accomplish any of these goals.”
Nevis opened the season on a strong note by defeating Laporte (64-8) and Cass Lake (67-54), losing to Kelliher/Northome (75-50) and defeating Blackduck (69-38).
A five-game losing streak followed as the Tigers dropped games to Clearbrook-Gonvick (53-27) and Sebeka (76-44), Norwood-Young America (67-43) and Belle Plaine (68-58) at the Norwood-Young America tournament, and Verndale (63-55).
The Tigers rebounded to defeat Menahga (62-58) and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley (45-44) and followed a loss to Pine River-Backus (54-39) with wins over Kelliher/Northome (50-45) and Pillager (59-45).
After back-to-back losses to PR-B (70-47) and Park Rapids (51-45), the Tigers went on a roll by going 6-1 in the final seven regular-season-games.
Nevis defeated Laporte (71-14), Northland (61-46), Cass Lake (66-34) and W-H-A (66-41) before falling to Clearbrook (44-42). Wins over Bertha-Hewitt (43-42) and Blackduck (64-42) ended the regular season.
Nevis ended up going 9-4 in conference play to tie Kelliher/Northome for third place. PR-B went 13-0 to win the conference title while Clearbrook-Gonvick finished at 12-2. PR-B ended the season with a 24-5 record while C-G ended at 25-4.
For the Section 5A tournament, the Tigers received the No. 6 seed in the West and opened the playoffs with a 70-42 loss to No. 3 Sebeka.
For the season, the Tigers averaged 52.7 points a game while allowing 50.1 points a night. Nevis shot 37.5 percent from the field and 49.5 percent at the free throw line while turning the ball over an average of 24.1 times a game.
“Our team did not shoot well this season. We only shot 39 percent from the field, 28 percent on 3-pointers and 49 percent on free throws. Add those shooting figures with 24 turnovers per night and you really limit success. We simply could not consistently put the ball in the basket and we did not handle the ball very well,” said Dent. “We did some things very well and that is what allowed us to win 13 games and finish with a winning record. We learned to play very hard on the defensive end of the floor in the last third of the season. We went 6-1 at the end of the year by holding scores down and rebounding at both ends. Our intensity and effort on defense became the focal point of our game and we really played tough basketball down the stretch. I am very happy at finishing up with a winning record and watching this team find an identity to build upon. We were lost at Christmas time and our team chemistry was a disaster. The girls eventually found a way to work things out and play better together.”
Leading the Tigers this season were seniors Riley Hanson, Mattie Hjelseth, Kate Dierkhising and Karly Drury; juniors Megan Norby, Jordan Walters, Diana Schuldt and Angel Wolf; and freshman Hannah Bliss. Also seeing extended varsity minutes were junior Cambria Ahrendt, sophomore Ruby Vedbraaten and freshman Jordyn Lucas.
Hanson and Norby received all-conference honors while Hjelseth was an all-conference honorable mention player. Hanson and Dierkhising received all-state academic honors.
Hanson was named the Tigers’ Most Valuable Player and earned the team’s Best Defender Award after averaging 10.9 points a game and leading the team with 287 rebounds (12.5 per game, which led the conference), 76 assists, 71 steals and 56 blocked shots as the starting center. Hanson shot 40.8 percent from the field (102 for 250) and 56 percent at the line (47 for 84) in scoring 251 points. In 23 games, Hanson scored in double figures in 11 of them with a high of 24 and pulled down at least 10 rebounds in 19 games with a high of 19. Hanson also had game highs of eight assists, seven steals and five blocks.
Norby led the Tigers in scoring at 18.5 points a game and was second with 64 steals and 53 assists. Norby shot 50.9 percent from the field (172 for 338) and 63.6 percent at the line (75 for 118) in scoring 426 points at guard. Norby also pulled down 111 rebounds. In 23 games, Norby scored in double figures in 21 games with a high of 34 and scored at least 20 points seven times. Norby also had game highs of 12 rebounds, six assists and six steals.
Hjelseth was third on the team in scoring at 5.9 points a night and was second on the team with 146 rebounds and third with 62 steals and 44 assists. Hjelseth made 63 of 141 shots (30.7 percent) and 15 of 37 free throws (40.5 percent) in scoring 141 points in 24 games. Hjelseth scored in double figures seven times and had game highs of 13 rebounds, seven steals and five assists as a forward.
Dierkhising averaged 5.3 points a game and led the Tigers with 31 3-pointers. The senior guard shot 30.1 percent from the field by making 43 of 143 shots (including 31 of 114 3-pointers) and 61.1 percent at the line by making 11 of 18 free throws in scoring 126 points. Dierkhising also had 41 rebounds, 34 assists and 29 steals in 24 games and received the Tigers’ Teammate Award.
Bliss, a forward, also averaged 5.3 points a game by making 53 of 117 shots (46.9 percent) and 11 of 46 free throws in scoring 117 points. Bliss, who was named the Tigers’ Rookie of the Year, also had 88 rebounds and 17 steals in 22 games.
Schuldt was named the Tigers’ Most Improved Player after averaging 3.2 points a night. In 24 games, Schuldt made 28 of 96 shots (including 19 of 50 3-pointers) and scored 77 points. Schuldt also had 39 rebounds, 20 steals and 14 assists as a forward.
Drury played in 24 games at forward and scored 65 points by making 26 of 112 shots and 13 of 25 free throws. Drury also had 42 rebounds, 38 assists and 25 steals.
Walters played 13 games as a guard and compiled 25 points, nine assists and eight steals.
Lucas received the team’s Miss Hustle Award after compiling 12 points, 13 rebounds, 11 steals and nine assists in 13 games.
Ahrendt played in 14 games and had 19 rebounds as a center, Wolf played in 14 games and had 15 points and 10 steals as a guard, and Vedbraaten played in 12 games as a guard.
Also seeing some varsity time this season were sophomore Samantha Wormley and freshmen Katya Ahrendt, Alexis Poncelet and Megan Edelman.
The Tigers will have several key positions to replace, but Dent is counting on the returning group to produce another successful season next year.
“Our team will look much different because we lose so much of our size and rebounding. However, we will be quick and with summer work, I think we will shoot better,” said Dent. “We will return eight letterwinners with four players who played significant minutes. We will try to press and run even more than we have in the past. Our goals will remain the same. We want to win the conference and contend for the subsection and section titles.”