2021-22 Lake Region Invitational Recap: Day 3

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – Winter weather jump-started Day No. 3 of the Lake Region Invitational two hours earlier than anticipated. However, this did not dissuade all eight teams from playing one final game to conclude the tournament. Here is the result of each match, with tournament awards listed. 

Park River/Fordville/Lankin vs. Larimore (Dec. 4) 

Final score: 42-24 Park River/Fordville/Lankin  

Scoring breakdown: 

-      08-14-10-10: 42

-      05-02-09-08: 24

At a glance: 

The seventh-place match on the consolation side of the bracket might not have been an electric affair, but it was a gritty one. This grit factored back to one thing: what team would capitalize on mistakes better? 

Once the buzzer rang to end the fourth, Park River/Fordville/Lankin came away with the 42-24 win. The Aggies faltered to Four Winds/Minnewaukan and Nelson County on Dec. 2 and 3, respectively. Meanwhile, the Polar Bears finish the tournament with an 0-3 record (they lost to Benson County and North Star on Dec. 2 and 3, respectively). 

It was a turnover festival between the Polar Bears and Aggies through the first half of the context as both logged double-digit turnovers. A sloppy first quarter from both sides transitioned into the second quarter, and while both teams turned over the ball left and right, neither side capitalized on it. 

However, Greta Wharam, Danielle Thompson, and Hannah Halvorson helped give the Aggies enough of a jolt on both ends of the floor to come away with their lone win during the tournament. 

Nelson County vs. North Star (Dec. 4) 

Final score: 35-28 North Star 

Scoring breakdown: 

-      08-08-00-12: 28

-      12-12-02-09: 35

At a glance: 

The fifth-place game was going to be a battle of matchups. Who would stack up against North Star’s Danielle Hagler or Nelson County’s Marit Ellingson? From an individual perspective, each player’s reputation preceded them, but how would each team collectively shut down the other? 

Although both teams found their defensive footing, North Star found enough of an offensive stroke early to claim the fifth-place finish with their 35-28 victory. 

A fifth-place finish might not be bronze, silver or gold. But for the Bearcats, it very well could have been. After all, it took a buzzer-beating layup from the Dunseith Dragons to take them down. Even still, North Star head coach Jill Vote believed her team rebounded in a big way on short rest throughout the tournament.

“In the locker room, we just talked about that,” Vote said after the game. “Thursday was a very hard-fought contest. That was a district matchup for us. We put a lot of effort in physically, prepping for it. Even mentally going into it as a district game. Again, credit to Dunseith. It bounced their way, and we came in with the fact we can play with teams and have confidence in ourselves. Coming away, 2-1, with fifth-place, we set that goal after night one, and the girls did a great job.” 

North Star's Lindsey Nyhagen (black, background) guards against Nelson County's Paytan Lippert (white, foreground).

Although the Chargers had a knack for shutting down offenses, Hagler found enough seams early through the first to score North Star’s first eight points of the game. 

A gradual dose from Hagler and Peyton Harpestad helped net the Bearcats a 24-16 lead at halftime. However, a scoreless third quarter from both teams (save for a Gracie Miller layup) kept the game within Nelson County’s reach. However, Hagler once again provided enough presence to spread Nelson County’s defense out. 

Although his team came up with the loss, Nelson County head coach Gus Kueber believes the defense can play. Kueber believes this facet of the game will be a steady block to build on. 

“Even playing our first game against Mayville, we did a good job defensively there, too,” Kueber said. “I think these three games here as well. We have done a really good job defensively. We have been holding teams under 40 points, and ideally, for a coach, that is great. Our goal for the girls every single quarter is to score 12 points. That gives us 48 on the game. We held a good team in North Star to 35 points. You have to give credit where credit is due. I believe Hagler had 19 points out there today. They knocked down some shots that were contested, but when it comes down to it, it is tough to win games when you are not even hitting the 30-point mark…we just have to keep working on our offense, but defensively, there are good things to see there.” 

Devils Lake JV vs. Benson County (Dec. 4) 

Final score: 45-38 Benson County

Scoring breakdown: 

-      06-07-05-17: 35

-      18-13-13-04: 48

At a glance: 

The Benson County Wildcats wanted to rebound from their defeat against the Dunseith Dragons on Dec. 3. Quinn Neppl, in particular, wished to put together another bullish performance. However, it was not solely because of her multi-point game against the Dragons. It instead came from the sole desire to win. That, and also to put her finger injury behind her. 

Benson County's Quinn Neppl drives into the paint to attempt a layup.

“She wants to win really bad,” Benson County head coach Kent Neppl said after his team lost, 49-43, to the Dragons on Dec. 3. “I have coached a lot of kids over the years and have worked with a lot of good athletes, too. Quinn is one of these kids who comes into every game with the attitude that I am better than whoever is guarding me. She works so hard at that, and she wants to be good. She wants to be great, and she wants her team to be good, too. We were unfortunate that we couldn’t get more kids to contribute tonight.” 

Team contribution not only showed itself against the Firebirds. Instead, it loudly reminded everyone of its presence as the Wildcats beat Devils Lake JV, 48-35. 

Neppl once again led the way on the offensive side. The senior guard/forward captured the first two baskets of the game and tallied a free throw on a +1 play late in the first quarter. 

Defensively, Ashlyn Williams, Desidy Schwanke and McKenna Tofsrud kept up the man and zone pressure on a JV team looking to feed the ball to freshman forward Claire Heilman. While the Firebirds closed out the game by scoring 17 points, the lead was too insurmountable. 

The Wildcats finished the tournament in third, while the Firebirds finished fourth. 

Four Winds/Minnewaukan vs. Dunseith (Dec. 4) 

Final score: 72-40 Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

Scoring breakdown: 

-     19-21-13-19: 72

-     08-14-15-03: 40

At a glance: 

Once the buzzer rang and opposing teams shook hands, Four Winds/Minnewaukan head coach Sean Gourd huddled up his team and kept it short and sweet. His words to the team? Thank you.

His team’s response? You’re welcome.

Of course, there was an adequate reason for the compliment. After all, Four Winds/Minnewaukan rode a solid first half and inevitably boxed out Dunseith’s size to the point where the Lady Indians took home first place in the Lake Region Invitational on Dec. 4. 

The Four Winds/Minnewaukan Lady Indians pose for a photo after the Lake Region Invitational.

“It feels good,” Gourd said after the game. “This is my seventh year here, and every year that has always been in our way. Hopefully, this is the first of many championships I want this year and we would like to have this year.” 

Gourd had to give credit where credit was due, even with the victory. 

“We wanted to just get the game up and down,” Gourd said. “Their bench didn’t seem too deep. We tried to keep the tempo, but they did a good job of slowing it down and breaking our press in the beginning. It was good to see that because now we can adjust when we see that type of press next time up. They did a really good job. They have some shooters and some height. There is a lot of potential over there at Dunseith…we couldn’t let them get hot. Try to crowd them and make them do something else. They are a solid team, and they definitely made us work for it. The score doesn’t indicate how much it felt.” 

Leading the way on the offensive and defensive end was senior center Ezura Rainbow, who did anything and everything from setting up screens, hitting mid-range jumpers and establishing defensive presses. This all-around effort prevented Dunseith’s bigs in Brailyn Davis and Tiyahna Trottier from grabbing too many baskets and boards. 

Rainbow (who claimed all-tournament MVP honors) believes her defense was what made the difference during the entire tournament. 

“I would say my defense picked up a lot,” Rainbow said after the game. Our entire team defense picked up. Sean [Gourd] was telling me to not worry about scoring and just try to push them, get them frustrated and then your scoring will come after that.” 

Holding the Dragons to three points during the fourth quarter was impressive, but none of it would have been possible without one thing: chemistry. 

To Rainbow, this chemistry has only gotten stronger. As her team builds confidence, Rainbow believes Four Winds/Minnewaukan can be a force now and in the future. 

“I feel like it will help our confidence a lot with this win,” Rainbow said. “Confidence and definitely chemistry. That is what we need to work on a lot too, and just with this tournament, I can tell our chemistry has gotten a lot better.” 

2021 Lake Region Tournament Awards: 

Free Throw Contest Winner: Bethany Holter, Larimore 

All-Tournament Team: 

    -      Danielle Hagler, North Star 

    -      Myona Dauphinais, Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

    -      Rozalind Strong, Dunseith 

    -      Desidy Schwanke, Benson County 

    -      Tiyahna Trottier, Dunseith 

    -      Alionna Lawrence, Four Winds/Minnewaukan 

    -      Claire Heilman, Devils Lake JV 

    -      Quinn Neppl, Benson County 

    -      Brailyn Davis, Dunseith 

MVP: Ezura Rainbow, Four Winds/Minnewaukan