While in a new position, L/E/M's state repeat hopes are still alive after defeating Four Winds in regional championship
The defense in title defense has been very much emphasized for the Cardinals this season. Not just on the court, but against their opponents, off the court, and in their own heads. Through late 2020 and early 2021, L/E/M has been on its heels defending just about everything that has been thrown at them.
Coming into their first game, defending a state title and a 29 game win streak, there was already some question marks. L/E/M had graduated its shooting anchors in Kaitlynn Scheer and Callie Ronningen with the spot being void coming into the season. It was only two players out of the entire roster, but the duo played a big role in the Cardinals cycle.
However, L/E/M was still a favorite. They were No. 4 in the state and were going to face a Benson County squad they had faced time and time again. Last season when they faced the Wildcats, they beat them by almost 40. There were question marks for the Cardinals, but they weren't sure if they were concerns yet. Then Benson County snapped L/E/M's streak.
Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of the Cardinals and every game became a fight. They squeaked past Kindred and narrowly lost to Shiloh Christian before plowing through their district schedule. They had put 10 straight wins together and were once again picking up attention around the state. Just when things were going up, along came Four Winds/Minnewaukan, then Grafton, and then Velva to hand the Cardinals three straight losses to end the regular season.
Those three losses stung. It wasn't Cardinal basketball that was on the court. Head coach Rob Scheer had called a meeting with his returning players because he knew that fierce game from last season was still there.
"I told them I watched them play last year, and you guys played defense as I had never seen," Scheer said. "You rarely made mistakes and this year it's like you can't do that. You were apart of the best defensive team I've ever seen in this state and you were huge parts of it, and now our defense was hurting us at times."
Looking a little deeper, that leader void left by Scheer and Ronningen was still there from the beginning of the season, and the veterans needed to fill it in order to get back what made them such a dangerous and scary team.
Five games later, the Cardinals' defense was not just alive and well, but it was pumping the team's hopes of another state title. Langdon/Edmore/Munich's relentless press powered them up and down the court, and through every player, eventually leading them to a 48-42 win over Four Winds/Minnewaukan to punch their ticket to Minot next week for the NDHSAA Class B Girls State Basketball Tournament.
"I knew it'd be a tough battle," Scheer said. "We really had to overcome a lot and we needed our defense and our pressure big time to wear them out. It was just awesome to see them overcome adversity at the end to make big plays to finish. That was a big thing for us."
Region 4 awards
Quinn Neppl, Benson County
Rozalind Strong, Dunseith
Myonna Dauphinais, Four Winds/Minnewaukan
Ezura Rainbow, Four Winds/Minnewaukan
Mahpiya Jackson, Four Winds/Minnewaukan
Morgan Freije, Langdon/Edmore/Munich
Senior Athlete of the Year
Kaylee Lowery, Langdon/Edmore/Munich
Coach of the Year
Gus Kueber, Nelson County
Athletic Director of the Year
Elliott Belquist, New Rockford-Sheyenne
Defense. Defense. Defense. It was the Cardinals' focus from tip-off and they knew it would get them where they needed to be. Even in the first five minutes, Four Winds would commit two shot-clock violations, showing L/E/M's press was coming to fruition. The Cardinals were pressing from every inch of the court and jumping on every small jumble of the ball Four Winds had made.
Lady Indians going into the paint would run into a blizzard as white jerseys were everywhere and jumping on every rebound. The fouls began to rack up for the Cardinals in the first half, but they knew if they stayed confident in their defense, the points would come.
"We came out right away with two defensive stops and I'm super proud of us," senior forward Kaylee Lowery said. "We've focused on defense a lot this year, and even years before, and that was our focus. The offense will come and it did."
Lowery, who has been the Cardinals' consistent scoring anchor throughout the season, was the main product of L/E/M's press to net strategy. She would lead the Cardinals on offense with 14 points, capitalizing wherever she could. Lowery balanced the effort from buzzer to buzzer but the Cardinals went deep when it came to their game.
Junior forward Morgan Freije continued to control the paint on both ends, finishing with nine points on the night. The rebounding effort wasn't just attributed to Freije, but others who offered height alongside the press in Lowery, senior guard Lexis Olson, freshman guard Jaya Henderson, freshman guard Jalynn Swanson, and freshman forward Cora Badding. L/E/M swarmed the net like a hive.
As for the 3-point shooting, a role that has rotated around the roster, Badding would hit two huge 3's for the Cardinals, not just snapping a 17-17 tie in the late second quarter, but turning it into a six-point lead. It isn't a role that Badding is usually in, but when the situation came where post players needed help, she stepped up.
"We wanted our post girls to be inside and when they got trapped down there, I knew I had to take some shots," Badding said. "That's what I did and it really helped move the ball around."
L/E/M never lost the lead throughout the game. Their defense was powering the machine and it looked like they were going to pull through heading into the final quarter. Then Four Winds post players began to heat up. Junior center Ezura Rainbow and junior guard Mahpiya Jackson broke through and pounded down the points to a 36-36 tie.
The Lady Indians were hot and about to take over, but the Cardinals reverted back to their anchor: defense. They were patient and flowed with the defense. Eventually, Lowery would respond with a 3 to put the Cardinals up. Four Winds would come back, but Henderson would hit a 3. The Lady Indians kept coming back, but L/E/M had an answer. Finally, a putback from Olson in the final minute would be just enough to put it out of reach.
"We wanted to run down the clock more so we had the possession longer and score points from there," Lowery said. "We knew our defense would be good enough to stop them in the end and we wouldn't have to worry."
The defense has always been there for the Cardinals. It's been the key to their success for years, leading them to multiple state tournaments. Out of that long week at the end of the regular season, the Cardinals knew that they had a strong caliber of defense in them, but they needed to work for it. Lowrey and Badding both said that from that Grafton game, it's been a non-stop push from everyone and that their coach has done what he can to help them give it their all.
"Defense wins championships is my 100 percent belief," Scheer chuckled. "Last year and this year we've been having great defensive teams in Langdon. I feel a team hates to step on the floor against us because they know they're going to need to work their butt off on offense and we're not going to give them anything easy."
Four Winds finishes its season at 15-8, picking up a third straight District 7 title and a fourth straight Region 4 runner-up placement. They were led by Rainbow with 16, followed by junior guard Myona Dauphinais with 13, and Jackson with 12. The trio has been dominant for Four Winds all season, craking the all-Region 4 squad.
It may be the end of the exciting run for the Lady Indians, but they'll be coming back to the court as one of the most dangerous teams in the region. Picking up even more experience, Four Winds is returning its entire roster and is the only team in Region 4 to not lose a player heading into next season.
The postseason has allowed L/E/M to get back to the basics and energize its state title defense late in the year. New leadership has taken over for the Cardinals, but there is still some reliance on those who led last year's squad. In fact, Scheer and Ronningen were in attendance on Thursday to cheer their alma mater on.
There were faces and flashes from last season inside "The Betty", which is where L/E/M won state last year, but there's a breath of fresh air in this squad that has grown used to being on the defense. The Cardinals know that their draw in state is going to be four or lower, but they don't care who they face. They're just excited to get back.
"It feels amazing to get back to state," Lowery said. "We love each other so much and we love to play together. We did lose two key players last year, and those were two huge roles to fill, but they were here tonight cheering us on and that felt way better to have them here."
The Cardinals have done a lot of growing since that night in mid-December in Leeds. There's more stability and leadership. However, one thing hasn't changed. The Cardinals' belief to repeate.
"If you saw that Benson County game, you would say how the heck did that team figure it out to go to state," Scheer said. "It took a lot off of me because I was pointing out more negatives than positives then, and sometimes you forget all the positives they do. We just had to get into the flow of you having to love your neighbor and hav to work togeather. It was a challenging year for all of us and this is just the kicker on all of the work we've done together to get to this place."