North Star finds life at home, beats Harvey/Wells County, 46-42
CANDO – The North Star Bearcats had a wish list Friday evening, and no, it did not pertain to presents under the Christmas tree. Instead, it involved their match against the Harvey/Wells County Girls Basketball team.
The Bearcats wished to start their 2021-22 home slate with a win for starters. Next, they wanted to emphasize their strong defense and continue to get shots down on offense. And last but certainly not least, they wished to pick up more valuable playing time in preparation for the inevitable basketball season grind ahead of them.
The Bearcats checked off all three boxes against the Hornets on Dec. 10 with their 46-42 victory.
The win is North Star's first inside their home gym since Feb. 12, 2021 (51-31 vs. Rolette/Wolford in the District 8 Tournament). The win is additionally North Star's first against Harvey/Wells County since their 52-45 victory against them on Dec. 8, 2017 (North Star was 0-3 against them heading into their 2021 contest).
"The energy and atmosphere were fantastic," senior guard Gracie Miller said after the game. "We played together as a team this game. Walking out for the warmups felt really good to get back in our home gym with a big crowd. I was really proud of all of us. We all did our roles and weren't afraid to shoot the ball or drive in. We all just backed each other up."
Miller has always taken pride in her guard play. If it meant setting up offensive drives or pressuring the opposition on defense, then that was what needed to be done. However, as the game quickly bogged down into a defensive stalemate, Miller, in addition to her fellow senior guards in Lindsey Nyhagen and Danielle Hagler, had to simultaneously fight through the defensive pressure and implement enough pressure on their end.
A 17-12 North Star lead at halftime only illustrated the stalemate on the defensive end. A collection of mid-court steals in Harvey/Wells County's favor did not even begin to paint the picture.
"One thing when we watched film on them, they played every type of defense," North Star head coach Jill Vote said after the game. "We prepped for chasers. We prepped for 2-3, 1-3-1 [and] their press. We told our guards who are experienced that they are going to change it. It is up to you to read and react, pull it out and make sure we are in the right offensive set. I thought our guards did a great job of that."
While the Bearcats maintained a half-a-dozen point cushion through the duration during the first half, the Hornets stayed within striking distance due in large part to North Star's 17 total turnovers during the contest.
However, an 18-point fourth quarter in North Star's favor came to be via timely shot selection and free-throw prowess. The Bearcats finished the game making four shots from the perimeter (4-12) and 14 from the line (14-17).
"We keep telling the girls we had open gym all summer," Vote said. "They were committed. When they start their fall sports, we don't focus on any other sport, so we tried to tell them they hadn't touched a ball for three months. It will come, so shooters keep shooting. We want to keep getting shots up. Tonight, I think we did a better job of other people looking to score instead of just relying on Danielle [Hagler] to allow her a little bit of a release of pressure. She sees a lot of pressure defense. Everyone has to be ready."
While the Hornets made a gritty effort, it was the Bearcats who found enough juice in the offensive tank to get the job done. North Star's 46 points are the most points scored in a single game through their previous four contests (their previous game-high was 43 against Dunseith in the team's opening game of the Lake Region Invitational on Dec. 2).
As the Bearcats continue to wade through their regular season schedule, it will boil down to one key trait in Miller's eyes: staying poised.
"They [Harvey/Wells County] definitely came out with a lot of energy, and they wanted to fight back," Miller said. "It was a big 'wow' moment in the beginning, but we remained in control and calm, so when they came out pretty strong, we were not shocked, but not ready for it exactly. So, we worked harder and maintained our calm."
Hagler finished the game with a team-high 18 points, while Nyhagen finished with 14 points. Miller, meanwhile, finished the game with a team-high five steals.