Top-seeded Lady Royals in the drivers seat again in Region 13

Sam Herder
The Lake Region State College women's basketball team hosts Williston State College tonight at 7 p.m. in the Region 13 semifinals. The Lady Royals are looking for their third straight trip to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.

By Sam Herder

Journal Sports Editor

The target on the Lake Region State College women’s basketball team’s back has been there all season. It’s gotten a little bigger now that the postseason has arrived. The Lady Royals have won the last two Region 13 championships. Going back further, they have won or competed in the last 15 region title games. This season, LRSC is once again the team to beat.

The top-seeded Royals host fourth-seeded Williston State College in the Region 13 semifinals tonight at 7 p.m. in the Devils Lake Sports Center.

While winning the last two region title games, the Royals went on to win their district game to advance to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.

“I think with last year winning and going to nationals, we’ve always had the target on our back since the beginning,” sophomore guard Kelsey Schlenk said. “It’s going to help being home and having the fans behind us.”

Home court has treated the Royals nicely this season. LRSC has lost just two games in the Sports Center, both nonconference games dating back to November.

“It’s definitely an advantage,” sophomore guard Kennedy Henningsgard said. “But we have to take advantage of it also because we’ll have a crowd there and the louder the crowd, it usually works in the home team’s favor.”

To up the ante, the winner of Region 13 this season automatically qualifies for the national tournament instead of having to play a district qualifier. The Region 13 winner would still host a district game, but the only thing at stake is a better seeding in the national tournament.

In LRSC’s path to start are the Tetons. The Royals are 2-0 against WSC this season with a 75-64 road win to start January and a 68-59 home win to end January.

“We have to contain (Nikira) Hooks, I think is the biggest key,” LRSC head coach Danny Mertens said. “The second key is to keep (Jamie) Gleeson off the boards. You stop those two things, and the rest will take care of itself. I think we match up well.”

Along with Schlenk and Henningsgard, the Royals have point guard Shaina Stevenson and forward Megan Cantellano as players who have experienced a postseason in a Royals jersey, although Cantellano has been out lately with a leg injury.

LRSC added sophomore post Kristal Flowers to its roster this season for a veteran starting lineup.

“Experience is always an advantage,” Henningsgard said. “Four of us sophomores have been there. We know what it’s like and understand the atmosphere.”

But another factor for the Royals has been the play off the bench. Freshmen Cassidy Nelson, Mackenzie Irwin, Helen Schuster and Jadyn Fee have all provided sparks in different games.

“Our biggest advantage is we always have someone new step up every game,” Schlenk said. “You never know who will step up and who you need to guard.”

LRSC has accomplished its goals of a 20-win season and a Mon-Dak Conference title. Now it’s on to the postseason goals, where the stakes have obviously risen.

Mertens said his team talks about the expectations and being the target every game.

“Kennedy and Kelsey have done a good job of preparing (the freshmen) for that,” Mertens said. “We don’t hide anything. We lay it out there and talk about getting better everyday and talk about our goals everyday.”

If LRSC wins today, it hosts the Region 13 finals on Sunday.

“These sophomores have lost three home games by a combined total of 19 points,” Mertens said. “I think we have nine losses in the last five years. Out of those nine losses at home, three or four of them are to Williston. Williston can play here, too. But our fans have been No. 1 all year and we’ve had some really good crowds. It should be a good atmosphere.”