by Martin Schlegel
Entering the last weekend of the regular season, women’s basketball is still battling for the top spot in the north division. Tied for first with Northern State University, Moorhead will need to beat tough opponents to keep pace.
The Dragons have played exceptionally down the stretch. Since losing to Winona State in early January, the team has won eight out of the last 10 games. Similarly, Northern State is 7-3 in its last 10 games.
Head coach Karla Nelson said the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference has been a grind this year, with parity among the top teams. Nelson was quick to point out, unlike the men’s side where the top teams have separated from the rest of the conference, the women’s side has more teams bottlenecked at the top of the standings.
“You want to try to be playing your best basketball in February,” Nelson said. “It’s not as easy as… people think it is.”
The Northern State Wolves are the defending NSIC champion. Last season, the Wolves allowed opponents a NSIC leading 51.9 points per game. This season the Wolves have allowed the second least points per game behind Winona State Univeristy.
Nelson gives Northern State credit for playing so well thus far after losing most of its star players.
Senior forward Heather Strese said the goal will be to out-rebound opponents as well as playing shut-down defense.
The Dragons have allowed the fourth least points this season, an improvement from last year.
She said splitting the two games with Northern State this season bodes well for the team’s confidence but does not guarantee anything.
“Once playoffs approach, it’s a clean slate,” Strese said.
Strese and Morgan Banasik are the two offensive weapons on the team. Banasik is leading the Dragons with 14.8 points per game. Strese adds another 14.3 points per game while leading the team in rebounds with 159. She also ranks seventh in the NSIC with 7.9 rebounds per game.
Nelson praised Strese’s consistency this season.
“Other teams scheme against us just to keep her off the offensive boards,” she said.
Nelson added that Strese has the ability to step back and shoot from beyond the arc with some success, adding another offensive element to her game.
Jessica Hart, Jacky Volkert and Drew Sannes have come off the bench and played well in the roles they are given night in and night out. Nelson complimented the trio saying guard play is extremely important to success in the playoffs, while bench play has been just as important as the starting five.
If the Dragons lose down the final stretch, the team is still in a position to open the playoffs with a home game. Strese believes the team thrives from the opportunity to play at home to start the playoffs.
Nelson said the Dragons match up well with top teams in the NSIC, but can’t worry about which one the team will face first.
“It’s February, you can’t worry about it,” she said. “If you sit there and focus on the big picture, it will seem like a pretty tall task. Keep it simple.”
The team will close out the regular season at home February Friday and Saturday. Friday will be the ninth annual Go Pink with the Dragons. Students can buy T-shirts for $10 at the MSUM bookstore, as well as at the game.
Additionally, there will also be a silent auction at the game. Proceeds from the silent auction and T-shirt sales will benefit the Rodger Maris Cancer Center and MSUM Go Pink Scholarship Fund.