Dragons basketball claims top spots going into NSIC tournament

By Martin Schlegel & Anthony Schnabel

schlegelma@mnstate.edu • schnabelan@mnstate.edu

The Dragons men’s and women’s basketball teams have finished at the top of the north division in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The men put together another dominant season, only losing four games — two in overtime. The women ended the season on a four-game winning streak and a 20-5 record, tying Northern State for the north division lead. Entering the NSIC tournament, the women are the No. 2 seed from the north, and the men are at No. 1.

Women confident going forward

After battling for first in the north division all season, the MSUM women’s basketball team is finally getting the same attention as the university’s men. The powerhouse team is full of confidence.

Head coach Karla Nelson said the team gained experience playing in a home playoff and in Sioux Falls.

“We won’t be in awe of the playoffs this year,” Nelson said.

Senior forward Heather Strese said the players are ready to avenge last year’s NSIC quarterfinal loss against Wayne State.

“I don’t think it was expected of us,” Strese said. “It taught us how to win.”

Nelson said the skills this year’s team has match other top teams in the conference.

The team’s go-to players, Strese and junior guard Morgan Banasik lead the team with 13.7 and 15 points per game respectively. Recent performances from senior forward Savanna Handevidt and freshman guard Jacky Volkert have given the team more offensive weapons.

The team will face Upper Iowa, the same team the Dragons played in the first round of the playoffs least year. This season, MSUM beat Upper Iowa 71-55 in Fayette, Iowa. Heather Strese led the way with 25 points. Cassidy Thorson added another 14 points to the team’s effort. Natalie Van Wyhe was major contributor as she scored six points, had four assists and three steals.

Nelson said the team will have to play with intensity from here on out.

“We have to get to the conference semifinals to have any chance of making a regional playoff,” she said.

Men look to continue dominance

The MSUM men’s basketball team landed itself a first-round home game against Wayne State Wednesday night. The Dragons won the north division of the NSIC conference, but trail Augustana for the conference’s best record.

It’s a repeat of last season’s first round when the Dragons beat Wayne State by 29 points at Nemzek Fieldhouse.

Sophomore guard Tanner Kretchman said Wayne is similar to last year’s team.

“The difference is our team,” Kretchman said. “Offensively and defensively, we need to become more solid as a unit. If we can play solid defense, not just in spurts, that will be huge for us, since it’s a playoff game.”

The Dragons have played well on the road this year, but head coach Chad Walthall is no enemy of the home court advantage.

“If you can host a first round playoff game, that’s an enormous advantage for anybody,” Walthall said, “especially in the playoffs.”

MSUM and Wayne State met at Nemzek earlier this month, the Dragons defeating the Wildcats 84-72. The Dragons had five players score in the double-digits, with senior Isaac Sevlie tallying 23.

Ngijol Songolo broke his finger in a previous game, leaving the Dragons without the senior for a month. Winnipeg native Ayob Ayob replaced Songolo in the starting lineup the last two games, scoring nine points against Minnesota-Duluth and 10 against St. Cloud.

“He’s probably helped us … offensively more than I anticipated. It’s always more difficult for transfers,” Walthall said. “He’s having an extraordinarily terrific shooting year.”

Walthall said anybody can win on any given night, recalling the night Northern State upset Augustana. But he believes this year’s team could win the NSIC conference title, something last year’s team didn’t do.

“I wouldn’t bet against this team at all,” he said.

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