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REGIONALS PREVIEW: who's heading home, who's heading to Minot

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Another busy week of girls' basketball is on the way and the Devils Lake Journal has got you covered. Here is a preview of the 2021 Region 4 girls basketball tournament.

With districts in the books, four area teams are left with their state dreams still alive. Langdon/Edmore/Munich, Four Winds/Minnewaukan, Nelson County, New Rockford-Sheyenne, and Benson County have advanced on to the regional stage, and kick off play early next week. 

It's not the regionals tournament everyone is used to as quarterfinal and semifinal matchups will be played at the higher seed, and the championship game will be played at The Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, making the final stage bigger than usual. Some squads are just excited to crack the top eight, while others have state title goals in mind.

Another busy week of girls' basketball is on the way and the Devils Lake Journal has got you covered. Here is a preview of the 2021 Region 4 girls basketball tournament.

Benson County 

Opponent: at Dunseith on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. 

Benson County and New Rockford-Sheyenne picked up wins to advance to regionals while Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated Nelson County for the District 7 championship on Feb. 15 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School

The Wildcats hit a little bit of a lull against Four Winds/Minnewaukan in the district tournament but had a quick recovery against Warwick the next day. They shot down 79 points against the Lady Warriors and broke a ton of players into the scoring column.

What was really big about this win was it showed how deep the Wildcats bench can go, when it's not that deep. The team boosted out to a big led in the first quarter while they gave one of their stars in junior guard Quinn Neppl a break. Junior guard Ashlyn Williams emerged as a shooting threat as she would down six 3-pointers on the night for Benson County. 

In the overall tournament, the Wildcats constants remained constant as Neppl and junior forward Desidy Schwanke charged Benson County's offense ahead as they have throughout the entire season. The Wildcats are heading into this tournament on the upswing, and can really take advantage of that against Dunseith. 

The Wildcats offense has been charged as of late, but one concern that comes about is the team's defense, especially going against a higher-seeded opponent. Center Kearyn Nelsen has anchored the effort, but she'll need some more help on the post to avoid exhaustion. With a bench that's small, but has talent, you don't want to run out of gas early. 

Benson County has had a track record of upsets this season and I think after a strong shooting performance against Warwick if they can keep up their confidence, they could really challenge Dunseith. I think the odds that this game could be upset are definitely higher than other games. It just depends on how confident the Wildcats are when they take the court Monday. 

New Rockford-Sheyenne 

Opponent: at L/E/M on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. 

Benson County and New Rockford-Sheyenne picked up wins to advance to regionals while Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated Nelson County for the District 7 championship on Feb. 15 at New Rockford-Sheyenne School

The Rockets have a lot of weapons that were extremely active in their win over Harvey/Wells County to get to regionals. The Hornets were the favorite to win that game, and not only did NR-S keep pace with them, but they were able to end the game with a substantial lead. 

One of the Rockets' biggest weapons was freshman Kelsie Belquist, who put on the most versatile performance on the floor against the Hornets. She not only broke into double figures but was a constant buzzing in the Hornets' ears all throughout the night. She was a key player in the Rockets' defensive effort and really caught HWC off guard.

Belquist gave a scoring boost to the consistent hot hands of seniors Dani Bjerke and Cassie Longnecker, who also broke into double figures on the night. Bjerke has been a steady hand throughout the season on offense and Longnecker has been a clutch shooter from deep. In the paint, senior Kayahna Hopfauf has capitalized on her height to give the Rockets a more rounded edge when it comes to their defensive attack. 

NR-S has proven to be a force when it can get its offense spark, however, a lot of that has to do with patience and staying calm. The Rockets are going to need to stay balanced against L/E/M if they want to stay competitive. If they are able to bring the same mental effort they had against HWC to Langdon, it'll be a tighter game than the Rockets first meeting with the Cardinals.

L/E/M has not gone easy on its opposition when it gets ahead, and the Rockets are going to need to find ways to keep pace with the Cardinals. I think exercising its offensive options and giving Belquist and Hopfauf support on the press will really benefit NR-S in the end. 

Nelson County 

Opponent: vs. Saint John on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in McVille. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated Benson County 54-35, and Nelson County defeated Harvey/Wells, 46-42, to advance to the District 7 title game on Monday.

The Chargers are rolling as of late, and similar to their first-round in districts, Nelson County is going to roll past Rolla based on the balanced attack they bring to the court. Nelson County's attack in ways is like a boa constrictor. There's so much going on around you that it begins to tighten up and their opponent, or prey, can't handle it. 

Rolla did upset Saint John to get a fighting chance, but Nelson County is still a threat and still has the edge in this game. The Chargers' balanced style saw the blast past Warwick and upset HWC into the district championship game as a first-year program. Nelson County was red hot in districts, and I think will continue that trend into the first round of regionals. 

What makes the Chargers attack so interesting is that the momentum revolves around the roster, making it hard for teams to key into one individual. On the arc, senior forward Kylee Baumgarn has been almost unstoppable, shooting really at will from deep. She hit nine 3-pointers against Warwick. Junior center Hollie Emory has provided the Charges with a height factor as has been a key for them in scoring from inside. 

Junior guard Marit Ellingson has debatably had the strongest versatile game for Nelson County as she has been a key player on the Chargers press and has been a consistent scorer. On defense, junior guards Nora Johnson and Paytan Lippert have played a major role in the press alongside Ellingson. Nelson County has such a wide attack, it's left opponents' heads spinning.

I don't think the Chargers will have too many problems with Rolla, but as for down the road, the only thing the Chargers have struggled to counter is talent mismatch. However, that could change after seeing Four Winds/Minnewaukan on the big stage. 

Langdon/Edmore/Munich 

Opponent: vs. New Rockford-Sheyenne on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. 

Langdon/Edmore/Munich girls basketball fell to Grafton, 70-46, on Feb. 5 at Langdon Area High School.

The Cardinals may have lost two of their big shooters this season, but they have plowed through district play. In two games, they outscored Rolla and Dunseith, 127-80. In fact, in most points L/E/M has given up in district play was 62 to Dunseith in the championship game on Monday. 

When things are clicking for the Cardinals, they are very hard to stop. They are still very much a high-caliber squad that is going to go far in regionals. Leading the charge is senior forward Kaylee Lowery, who's been a constant scoring force every game for the Cardinals. Her ability to drive the lane has added tally after tally on the scoreboard. 

In the paint, junior forward Morgan Freije continues to be a tough matchup for opponents across the area. She has had more of a pressured role this season due to the shooting woes from the outside but has still managed to clean up under the net and close out on the other end of the court. Cardinals have also seen success from its younger core in freshmen Cora Badding, Jalynn Swanson, and Jaya Henderson. 

The Cardinals have found a lot of success in their district, but the region has been a different story. They dropped their first game of the season to Benson County and fell to Four Winds/Minnewaukan towards the end of the regular season. The Cardinals have been struggling with finding a shooter and finding a constant flow towards the end of the regular season, but they still have the talent and experience to turn the tables. 

I don't really think the first two rounds should be a problem for L/E/M. They've gone the distance a few times, not just in basketball, but volleyball too, and know what they need to do to win. They get NR-S at home on Monday, who they defeated by 30 this season, and will get Nelson County or Rolla in round two if they move on, whom they are 3-0 against this year.

It's going to get interesting once it comes down to the title game. If Four Winds/Minnewaukan gets there, the odds may not be in the Cardinals' favor and will be battled tested once again. I think the L/E/M can still find a way to win the region, but it's going to be more of a challenge than last season. They may not be the squad they were last year, but the Cardinals are still a very dangerous team. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

Opponent: vs. Saint John on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Fort Totten 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan defeated Benson County 54-35, and Nelson County defeated Harvey/Wells, 46-42, to advance to the District 7 title game on Monday.

The Lady Indians are a team that is driven on making history. They've already done it once this year, picking up a third straight district championship, something no Lady Indians team has done before, and are extremely hungry for the region crown. 

Four Winds moved through districts with ease as they posted two 15 plus point wins over Benson County and Nelson County to the tournament. There was a little bit of a slip up early in their game against the Wildcats, but against the Chargers, the Lady Indians were on it from start to finish. 

Additionally, in the regular season, this team made sure that they were battled tested before it really mattered. After going 0-6 against ranked opponents, the Lady Indians finally found the conversion, and got the monkey off their back, against L/E/M in a 61-54 victory. It was Four Winds' first victory over the Cardinals since 2014. 

The Lady Indians are powered by their big three in juniors guard Myona Dauphinais, foward Mahpiya Jackson, and center Ezura Rainbow. Jackson and Rainbow have been nearly unstoppable on the post as the duo put up 15 and 20 points against Nelson County. Rainbow in particular has been dominating on the post and hasn't had too much counter. 

On the outside, Dauphinais has balanced off the offense and continues to progress at a constant pace. She a target for most opponents, due to her shooting abilities, and has received help from Rainbow and Jackson on that end. The defensive effort has also been highly supported as well as junior guard Mallory Yankton and sophomores guard Makeisha Cavanaugh and guard Natalia Littleghost have provided a steady cushion. 

It took a bit, but Four Winds is getting into a groove at the right time and should have no problem with Saint John in the first round. If they meet Dunseith in round two, it could be an intresting matchup, but I still like Four Winds is in a higher place than the Dragons right now.

The Lady Indians are heating up. Along with having a home court advantage in the first and second rounds, the edge belongs for Four Winds in both those games. They're going to be a tough squad to beat. 

Prediction 

Region 4 champion: Four Winds/Minnewaukan

Runner up: Langdon/Edmore/Munich

It's really hard to pick against the Cardinals, and this is going to be a very close game, but I think the Lady Indians are in a better place right now than L/E/M. A lot of questions seemed to be answered for Four Winds and their stars are really starting to shine. 

L/E/M is extremely veteraned this time of year and it's really hard to pick against a team that went undefeated last season and is a defending state champion, but I think the Lady Indians have more figured out and are more battle-tested than the Cardinals. I'm not going to be surprised if the Cardinals win this game, but in my opinion, Four Winds' has the edge.

The matchup between Freije and Rainbow is going to be a really exciting one, along with Lowery and Jackson. These are two teams that have seen a lot of each other over the past few seasons and I think the tables are finally going to turn in favor of the Lady Indians. 

See y'all on the courts! 

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.