2021-22 Lake Region Invitational Recap: Day 1

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – The Devils Lake Sports Center was rocking Thursday afternoon and evening. While the holiday spirit more than likely played a factor in the festivities, the Lake Region Invitational played its own tune, too. After COVID-19 put a damper on tournament activity last season, a new campaign brought together eight teams for the chance to show their early season talents for three straight days (Dec. 2-4). Here is the result of each matchup during the first day of the tournament. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan vs. Park River/Fordville/Lankin (Dec. 2) 

Final score: 60-25 Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

Scoring breakdown: 

    - 17-20-14-09: 60

    - 06-07-07-05: 25

At a glance: 

Although nerves played a factor through the early portion of the first quarter, Four Winds/Minnewaukan settled in and went on to score in the double-digits in each of the first three quarters to pull away with the 60-25 win to open the tournament. 

To Four Winds/Minnewaukan head coach Sean Gourd, it was a top-to-bottom team effort. 

“We are developing a deeper bench this year,” Gourd said after the win. “We had a scrimmage last weekend, and we had some girls sit out, but we had girls coming in that stepped up and showed a lot of promise…that just deepens our bench, and we want to trap, we want to press and we want to do things like that. I think we had the ability this year, compared to previous years. We just have to be on the same page, talk, rotate, anticipate and do all that good stuff…Offensively, defensively, we have things to clean up. We are far from a finished product, but I liked the effort. I wasn’t expecting a perfect game, far from it. As long as we keep progressing every game, we will be content with that.”  

Offensive rebounds, half-court traps and enough two-on-one situations inevitably gave the Lady Indians enough of a spark to put the Aggies in too deep of a hole to overcome. 

However, it was not smooth sailing for the Lady Indians during the game’s entirety as junior guard Alionna Lawrence went down midway through the second quarter with a leg injury. However, Lawrence returned to the court with less than a minute to go in the half and promptly tallied a three-pointer from the wing. 

Junior forward Alionna Lawrence goes for a pass against Park River/Fordville/Lankin.

“I think she might have hyperextended it a little bit,” Gourd said. “Those kinds of injuries, your leg goes back and it freaks you out too, on top of things. She came in, she looked good, put a little bit of wrap on it and is a gamer. It is going to take a lot of things to keep her out of the game. I knew that wasn’t going to slow her down.” 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan will face Devils Lake JV on Dec. 3 at 6:00 p.m. CT.

Devils Lake JV vs. Nelson County (Dec. 2) 

Final score: 41-37 Devils Lake JV 

Scoring breakdown: 

    - 07-10-08-16: 41 

    - 13-14-02-08: 37 

At a glance: 

A 39-31 win on Nov. 30 against May-Port-C-G illustrated Nelson County’s knack of suffocating opposing offenses. During Nelson County's opening matchup against Devils Lake JV, it was the Firebirds who utilized this formula. This proved to be the difference-maker as the Firebirds overtook the Chargers, 41-37, in the tournament’s opening round. 

With the loss, the Chargers have started the season 1-1 and have averaged 38 points per game through two contests (tournament play included). 

Although their 10-point lead was dashed away, the Chargers must look ahead to the next game at hand. 

“What is really going to show up here is our game against Park River,” Nelson County head coach Gus Kueber said. “You can lose a game, but it is how you are going to show up the next day. Basically, we have to refocus here. You can’t turn back time and worry about what just happened. We have to sit here and get ready for Park River and be focused and get ready for them.” 

A double-digit second quarter for the Firebirds might not have looked like much, but it was enough to contend with Nelson County’s passing and rebounding when factoring in the double-teams and presses. 

After the Firebirds came out of the second half with a 6-0 run through the first four+ minutes of the third, it was freshman forward Claire Heilman who delivered a crucial downtown shot from the right wing to help put her team in the go-ahead position. 

Several players converge in the paint as they look for the ball.

“The presses they were throwing at us were giving us a little bit of a hassle here and there,” Kueber said. “We go over a lot of that stuff in practice, and I don’t know what it was, if we were off our game...we played well in that first half. We were up 27-17, I believe, and then that second half, the first three minutes, I really tried to stress to the girls how important that is. Either you can pull away and shut the door on them, or you can let them back in the game. When they came out and pressed us a little bit here and there, we had a couple of turnovers that were uncharacteristic of what we do, and we made some mistakes out there. The girls in the locker room after the game were a little disappointed, and it is not about how you lose but the way you lost. We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have made. We missed a couple of layups here and there, and when you lose a game by four points, a missed layup makes a big difference.” 

Devils Lake JV will officially take on Four Winds/Minnewaukan in the winner’s semifinal on Dec. 3 at 6:00 p.m. Nelson County will challenge Park River/Fordville/Lankin in the consolation semifinal Dec. 3 at 3:00 p.m. CT. 

Benson County vs. Larimore (Dec. 2) 

Final score: 52-28 Benson County 

Scoring breakdown: 

    - 09-12-10-21: 52 

    - 06-03-17-02: 28 

At a glance: 

The Wildcats wanted to utilize their playmakers on offense. Luckily for the Wildcats, they did just that as they defeated Larimore, 52-28, in their opening game of the tournament. 

The Wildcats are now 1-1 to start the 2021-22 season (tournament pl included). The Wildcats faltered to Rugby, 49-41, at Maddock High School on Nov. 30. 

“We got a little more comfortable today,” Benson County head coach Kent Neppl said after the game. “The first game, we had some jitters, I think. Rugby is a good team, first of all. They are solid, and we didn’t shoot well. Falling down and only having one field goal in the first half against Rugby, that hurts. One field goal and seven free throws are not going to get it done against a team like that. Today, we got comfortable. They started out a little tight. It was scary at first, but they came out of it. They figured it out, started playing and were even better when Quinn [Neppl] went down and other kids stepped up to the challenge. That was fun to see.”  

A slim 9-6 lead through the first quarter swiftly transitioned into a double-digit lead in Benson County’s favor through the second quarter. The Wildcats not only held the Polar Bears to one field goal during the second quarter (a three-pointer via junior guard Kendra Gemmill) but additionally utilized a collection of forwards and guards to implement enough half-court pressure. This became possible through senior guard/forward Desidy Schwanke, senior guard/forward Quinn Neppl and senior guard Ashlyn Williams. 

However, an injury to Neppl forced the Bearcats to go to their bench through the latter portion of the game. There was no update on Neppl’s condition after the game. 

Although the Wildcats were able to capitalize on scoring chances with Hailey Maddock and McKenna Tofsrud, a 52-28 win came with a bittersweet tradeoff. Should the Wildcats be without Neppl for a prolonged period, it will be up to a thin roster to step up even more. 

“It is going to be very important,” Neppl said. “I need everybody. I only have eight here. I only have eight ready to play, so these other kids are going to have to step up and fill some big shoes. Losing Quinn is going to be a big part of our team, so we will see.” 

The Wildcats will battle Dunseith at 7:30 p.m. CT on Dec. 3. 

Dunseith vs. North Star (Dec. 2) 

Final score: 44-43 Dunseith 

Scoring breakdown: 

    - 12-07-10-15: 44

    - 10-13-09-11: 43

At a glance: 

A 9-0 deficit through the first four+ minutes of play was certainly not how the North Star Bearcats envisioned their season to start. But then, crisp ball movement and good touch from beyond the arc helped push the Bearcats back into the hunt. However, in the tournament’s opening round, a buzzer-beating layup from the Dragons inevitably sunk the Bearcats, 44-43. 

While senior guard/forward Lindsey Nyhagen seemingly nailed the game-clinching shot, it was Dunseith who capitalized on a quick pass in the low post and nailed a timely layup to send the Bearcats packing. 

“When the girls came in, we were out of timeouts, so we talked about if we got a rebound, called out a certain set, we knew they would bite hard on Danielle [Hagler], so we talked to Lindsey [Nyhagen] about going a little farther on her movement on that set so she would really have to wrap around,” North Star head coach Jill Vote said. “Credit to the girls listening in the timeout. They got a big rebound, went down, executed and got the shot. Dunseith came down, got the bounce and good for them.” 

A slim 23-20 lead at the start of the third quarter quickly turned into a back-and-forth scoring affair between the Bearcats and Dragons. Although Dunseith found their three-point stroke in the corner, Hagler used a little three-point prowess of her own to give NS the 30-28 lead with less than three minutes to go in the third. 

Senior guard/forward Lindsey Nyhagen attempts to make a pass against Dunseith.

As the minutes died down in the fourth, North Star continued to cling to a one-point lead. However, North Star had to respond after a Dragon jumper put the Bearcats in a 41-40 hole with less than 40 seconds to go. While the Bearcats came up on the losing end of the contest, Vote believes her team can quickly turn things around and make noise moving forward. 

“A lot of people look at us as just a volleyball school, but like I told the girls in the locker room, if we can clean up some of the passing, we can have a very good season,” Vote said. “They definitely work hard every day.” 

The Bearcats will tackle Larimore at 4:30 p.m. CT on Dec. 3.