Early in the second half of a Lake Region State College women's basketball game, Mikayla Wallace picks off an opponent's pass.

By Harry Lipsiea

Journal Reporter

Early in the second half of a Lake Region State College women's basketball game, Mikayla Wallace picks off an opponent's pass.

The freshman guard dribbles to her left and hands it off Emily Schafer. Looking around at the defense, she tosses it to Jadyn Fee on the left side of the lane. With a fake to the right, the post player goes up strong for two points off the glass giving her team a lead at the Devils Lake Sports Center.

That was the scene in November as Lake Region State College pulled away from Red River Community College. There was a feeling that this type of play had happened before through the years. Wallace, Schafer and Fee are Devils Lake natives who grew up playing basketball together.

All three were standouts for the Firebirds during their high school careers. Now, the trio is back together playing a key role for the Lake Region State College women's basketball program.

"It's been fun playing with them again," Fee, a sophomore post player, noted. "I really missed playing with Emily and Mikayla last year. So, it's been fun to be back together again on the court."

Jadyn was a 2015 graduate of Devils Lake High School. After wrapping up her career as a Firebird, she was hoping that collegiate basketball was something in her future plans.

In the end, playing at home and being part of a successful program at Lake Region State College were determining factors for Fee.

"I knew I wanted to keep playing basketball," she said. "LRSC has a great program and it was important to be close to family. Plus, it's a really good college. Those were a lot of the reasons I chose Lake Region."

Wallace and Schafer, 2016 graduates of Devils Lake High School, chose Lake Region State College for similar factors.

For Wallace, it was extremely important to stay close to home and be near family, she said.

"I thought being able to stay in Devils Lake, go to college and play basketball was a great opportunity for me," she stated. "LRSC has a great tradition and it was important for me to be a part of that."

In addition to playing close to home and the tradition of the program, Schafer had two extra reasons for playing at LRSC. Her sisters, Katie and Sarah, were All-Conference performers for the Royals.

"They really liked playing at Lake Region. It was a good experience for them. So growing up, I was always hopeful I would have the opportunity to do the same thing," Emily told the Journal.

For Lake Region State College head coach Danny Mertens, being able to sign local products like the Devils Lake trio is a huge boost to the program. "It's absolutely a positive thing for us. Recruiting Devils Lake players is something that has always been a part of the Royal program," the coach said.

"This is a community with a strong backing for basketball. Devils Lake has had a nice pool of talented athletes through the years."

Fee, Wallace and Schafer have all been positive additions to the program, the coach notes.

In addition to their efforts on the court, the three student athletes bring a lot to the table.

"Each of them are just great kids. They do a good in the classroom and represent Lake Region State College well in whatever they do. I couldn't ask for a better group of student athletes," Mertens said.

It can be quite the jump from high school to college. From the size and strength of opponents to quickness of the game, collegiate basketball is a different world than high school, Fee pointed out.

"I got into a college game for the first time and realized right away that I wasn't in high school anymore," the forward said. "Playing at LRSC, the pace is so much faster than it was in high school. The speed of the college game kind of eye-opening. Once I got used to, I really loved it."

Wallace agreed pointing out that there is less time to react to the action. It's made for a challenge transitioning to the college game, but the freshman guard has enjoyed it.

"It's definitely different than high school," she added. "There is a lot going on and sometimes you have to really focus on reacting faster to situations. But, overall I have enjoyed it."

Meanwhile, Schafer credited the team's sophomores for helping the underclassmen prepare for collegiate basketball in the off-season. Due to the guidance of the older players, Schafer has felt good about moving up to the college level.

"The transition hasn't been too hard, because of the quality of our practices and shoot arounds," the freshman forward added. "The sophomores have done a tremendous job setting the pace. They have made it very easy for us freshman this season."

Adapting to the speed of the game is the hardest component of the college game to grasp for freshmen, Mertens stated.

"It is much faster than high school," he said. "Getting a shot off on offense or guarding an opponent is more difficult in college. Those things are always a work in progress for freshmen, but I give Jadyn, Emily and Mikayla a lot of credit for working hard and listening to improve their games."

Both Wallace and Schafer credit Fee for her leadership. While transitioning to college is difficult, it is easier when you have someone that you are familiar with there every step of the way, Schafer acknowledged.

"Jadyn has really showed us the ropes," she said. "Right away, she introduced us to everyone. I can't say enough about how helpful she has been."

Wallace noted that it would have been daunting not to have familiar faces as she enter the collegiate basketball scene.

"It's nice to have two teammates from high school on the team," Mikayla stated. "You have to get used to playing with a lot of new players which is great, but it's nice to have people you are used to being with on the court."

One of the advantages of playing with former teammates is knowing each other's strengths. After not playing with Schafer and Wallace last season, it hasn't taken Fee long at all to get used to competing alongside the freshman duo.

"It's been really nice," Fee added. "We haven't really missed a beat. It's just been really fun playing with Mikayla and Emily again."

The athlete's history of playing together shows on the court, according to Mertens. Having high school teammates on the same team is an absolute positive, he pointed out.

"It really adds to the team chemistry and helps build camaraderie," Mertens commented. All three have enjoyed playing at the Devils Lake Sports Center in college. It's a court where the athletes have spent a lot of time through the years.

"There are a lot of good memories that come rushing back every time I step on the court," Wallace said.

Schafer added, "It's great to be on the Sports Center floor again. I have always enjoyed playing here."

Each of the three DLHS graduates have appeared in every single game for the Royals this season. Fee, who was a part-time start last year has settled nicely into four position for LRSC. The sophomore averages four points, three rebounds and two assists per game.

"Jadyn is very steady for us. I have been very impressed by the leadership she has provided," Mertens said. Schafer, who has started eight games, averages eight points, three rebounds and two assists. Wallace has added five points, two rebounds and an assist per game.

"Both Emily and Mikayla have done a nice job. Like any other freshmen, it takes some time to adjust," the coach said. "They both have really improved as the year has gone on."

So far, it's been an enjoyable experience being part of the LRSC program, the players agreed.

For Fee, it's a little disappointing that this is her final year playing competitive basketball in Devils Lake.

"It's been really good. After the last year, I just wish I could play more here," she said. "I'm grateful for the chance to play in my hometown with teammates from high school."