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PREVIEW: It's not what we're used to, but 'Ramsey County Tournament' will be played this weekend

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Basketball stock photo

It's around this time every year that boys teams from the area converge on Devils Lake High School for three days for the Ramsey County Tournament. Seven Class B squads, and Devils Lake JV, all tip-off on Thursday in hopes to make it to Saturday's championship game. Last season, Four Winds/Minnewaukan was challenged by a senior lead Dakota Prairie squad but was able to pull away with a 14-point win. 

The event pulls in hundreds of fans around the area to the heart of Ramsey County, but this year the Sports Center at Devils Lake High School will only be hosting one game. The Ramsey County Tournament will still be happening this weekend and most teams will still be playing 3-games, but it'll be less of a "survive and move on" type of feel. 

The competing teams: Four Winds/Minnewaukan, Dakota Praire, Lakota, North Star, Benson County, Devils Lake JV, Larimore, and Rolette/Wolford will play three or two games between Thursday and Saturday, which all of the opponents set, acting as this season's Ramsey County Tournament. It is unknown if a team will be named the Ramsey County Tournament Champion if they win all three games. 

While it isn't the tournament the players, coaches and fans are used to, the alternative format to the tournament gives teams a chance to play games in consecutive fashion and enjoy more games in an already shortened season. Here are what the six lake region prep teams are up against in the next three games. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Junior guard Jayden Yankton attempts a free throw in a game against Beulah on Dec. 18 at Four Winds High School. The Indians won 64-60.

Jan. 8 vs. Benson County (at Minnewaukan)

Jan. 9 vs. North Star (at Fort Totten) 

While the Indians did drop their first game of the season to No. 4 Dickson Trinity over winter break, the Indians are still one of the hottest team's in the area.

The lone loss didn't knock the Indians out of the top 5 standings as they fell one spot down to No. 2 with Enderlin taking over the No. 1 position, who Four Winds defeated 85-71 on Dec. 21. The Indians responded to the loss with a 35-point win over Hatton/Northwood, another team who had received votes in the most recent poll.

Junior guard Jayden Yankton continues to be the Indians biggest point getters as he would drop 23 points in the loss to Dickson Trinity. With Yankton shooting heavy from the outside, senior center Bronson Walter continues to provide a strong cushion in the paint while senior Jonah Jackson provides even more depth off the bench. Four Winds depth continues to grow as the move deeper into the season. 

In their first bout in facing district and region competition, they'll host both tournament games as they face Benson County on Friday night and North Star on Saturday. The Indians bested both teams last season, defeating the Wildcats 80-52 and the Bearcats 88-43.

Fans are restricted from events held at Four Winds and Minnewaukan, but games will be broadcasted on NFHS Network and Four Winds Sports' Facebook page. 

Benson County 

Jan. 7 vs Devils Lake JV (at Leeds) 

Jan. 8 at Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

The Wildcats are another squad that will be playing two games in this tournament but will be looking at two very different challenges in both of their games. Benson County comes into this game with a dominate win over another regional foe in Rolette/Wolford, downing the comets 65-34 on Tuesday. 

While only facing two teams from the region, the Wildcats are 2-0. Ontop of the Rolette/Wolford win, the Wildcats edged past North Star 63-59 to open up the season. Benson County has found strength in the post off of senior Blayne Anderson and senior Cole Wentz. The duo charged the Wildcats to the narrow win over the Bearcats, seeing Anderson down 26 points in the victory. 

They will open up the tournament against Devils Lake JV, a team that has challenged local class B competition in the past. Last season, Benson County defeated the Firebirds by 74-64 in the final game of the tournament. While the Devils Lake JV game sees the Wildcats as a favorite, the Four Winds/Minnewaukan game the next night will prove to be a different challenge. The Wildcats haven't defeated the Indians over the past few seasons and this year proves to be another challenge for Benson County. 

The Wildcats are a squad that are hanging out toward the top of the regional standings and a pair of wins in the makeshift tournament could raise some eyebrows heading deeper into the season. 

North Star 

North Star freshman guard Dane Hagler brings the ball up court during a game against Lakota on Jan. 4 at Lakota Community Center.

Jan. 7 at Dakota Prairie 

Jan. 8 vs. Larimore 

Jan. 9 at Four Winds/Minnewukan 

The Bearcats picked up a big win over Lakota to boost their standings in the district and North Star could extend that won win into a streak going into this tournament. They are looking like the favorite heading into their first two games against Dakota Prairie and Larimore. 

North Star played a tight game against the Raiders on Monday, but would go on a 19-0 run in the third quarter to power forward to a win. Senior guard Thomas Nikolaisen headed the run, downing three 3's in Bearcats scoring spurt. He would lead the team with 22 followed by freshman guard Dane Hagler, who picked up 17 points in the victory. 

The Bearcats picked up on a groove against Lakota and were hard to stop from deep. They face a Dakota Prairie squad that has been hit hard by senior losses heading into this season but has picked up back to back wins over Larimore and Carrington over the winter break. Taking on Larimore, the Polar Bears are coming off a narrow win over Griggs-Midkota but dropped games to Drayton/Valley-Edinburg and Dakota Praire. 

While the first two games may sway in favor of the Bearcats, they fall into a similar situation to Benson County, running into Four Winds/Minnewaukan to finish the tournament. The Bearcats and Indians have become rivals of sorts, meeting each other year after year in the regional title game, but both squads are in different places. North Star faces a challenge in the Indians, but a win or even a close challenge sends them back to district play as one of the top teams to possibly challenge St. John and No. 5 Langdon/Edmore/Munich. 

Dakota Prairie 

Jan. 7 vs. North Star 

Jan. 8 at Lakota 

Jan. 9 vs. Rolette/Wolford 

The Knights are picking up some momentum as a young squad and have the opportunity to pick up three more wins in the upcoming tournament. While Dakota Praire may be challenged against North Star, the matchup is definitely one they can stay competitive in and possibly win. 

The Knights have rolled off of their big men in senior forward/center Mason Lenz and junior center/forward Garrett Syverson. Alongside a few other seniors in guard/forward Blake Hanson and guard Trey Jorde, Dakota Prairie has grown its success early on in the season. After dropping their first two games, the Knights have rolled to wins over Rolette/Wolford and Carrington, with that game coming down to the final shot. 

Lakota vs. Dakota Praire, a rivalry game, might stand out as the best game of the tournament as both teams are sitting in similar situations and are charged by their rivalry status. A handful of players on both rosters are already familiar with each other as the Nelson County co-op is made up of students from Dakota Prairie and Lakota. 

Dakota Prairie may not be the favorite to win the "tournament", whatever winning is classified as, but they are a favorite to take second or third place under the radar. The Knights drew a pretty good schedule and should have a solid run, win or lose, in these next three games. 

Lakota 

Lakota freshman forward Ross Thompson	goes up for a shot in a game against North Star on Jan. 4 at Lakota Community Center.

Jan. 7 at Rolette/Wolford 

Jan. 8 vs. Dakota Prairie 

Jan. 9 at Devils Lake JV

The Raiders aren't the deepest team, in reference to numbers and age, but have proved they aren't going to be at the bottom of the standings early on in this season. After having a strong finish last year, narrowly missing the regionals cut against Dakota Praire, Lakota has already picked up a win and played a tight game against North Star. 

Despite it being the loss, a slip up in which the Bearcats went on a 19-0 run in the third quarter decided the game. Outside of that, the Raiders competed with North Star throughout the majority of the game, taking the lead at one point. Players young and old have been able to help out the scoring effort for Lakota, seeing senior forward Brandt Ferguson and freshman Ross Thompson lead the charge against the Bearcats on Monday. Ferguson would down a team-high 13 points and Ferguson would follow with 10. 

Lakota's draw will benefit them as they are playing three squads that will most likely challenge them for wins. Rolette/Wolford, while struggling, has played some competition in the mid-range area of the standings, dictating when they're currently at when it comes to regional rankings. A win over the Comets could boost Lakota's standing credibility even more.

The Dakota Prairie game should be a fun one to watch, with both teams in the mid-range area of the standings looking to trend upwards, and are also rivals. The Raiders close out against Devils Lake JV, which is younger than usual as a handful of players have been moved up to the varsity roster. However, it's unknown how many players on Devils Lake's roster are splitting time between the two squads.

Lakota has a good draw in this tournament and can probably pick up at least a win. The Dakota Prairie and Devils Lake JV games will be contested, but the Raiders have some challenging games in front of them. 

Devils Lake JV 

Jan. 7 at Benson County 

Jan. 8 at Rolette/Wolford 

Jan. 9 vs. Lakota 

This is a tradition for Devils Lake JV as these are the only three varsity games that the team plays every season. In recent history, the Firebirds have finished the Ramsey County Tournament with a record of 1-2, usually winning their final game. 

The Firebirds lineup this season is similar but offers some different perspectives as well. Benson County is looking like the favorite in the first game, but can easily be challenged pending on how many JV/Varsity players will be in the tournament. Devils Lake varsity is currently in a rebuilding phase, with a handful of players playing full-time varsity for the first time or splitting time between the two teams. Depending on the Firebirds roster heading into this game, it may be a different story. 

Rolette/Wolford has usually been one of the two schools that the Firebirds pick up a win over in this tournament, so the trend is looking like it'll stay the same. The Lakota game is looking like it'll be closer. The Raiders have played some tight games and this game has been tighter in the past. This will be a game to watch in this tournament as the level is extremely close.

There isn't too much we know about Devils Lake JV to compare to Class B varsity competition, but if the trends are similar in relation to what is happening on their varsity roster, the Firebirds might surprise some people this weekend. 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.