Linton playing with something to proveThe Linton girls’ basketball team has spent the majority of the past two months scratching their heads — and for good reason. The team has been sticking it to the opposition all season long, outscoring opponents on the average of 70.2 points to 32.6 points per night, and has quietly amassed an overall record of 11-1.
By: Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun
The Linton girls’ basketball team has spent the majority of the past two months scratching their heads — and for good reason.
The team has been sticking it to the opposition all season long, outscoring opponents on the average of 70.2 points to 32.6 points per night, and has quietly amassed an overall record of 11-1.
Linton’s only glitch to this point was a 6-point road loss to the defending Region 7 champions and No. 3-ranked Hazen Bison (11-1) back on Dec. 14 — a team the Lady Lions beat not once, but twice during league play last summer.
But last week, for the first time all season, Linton finally cracked the state Class B basketball poll’s top 10 and is currently sitting at No. 9.
Maybe it’s because the team is playing in the shadow of a boys’ team that won it all last year and has been fixated at the top of the polls the past two seasons.
Or, maybe it’s because Region 3 rival Kidder County, last season’s girls’ state champs, is once again looming large with a No. 4 state ranking and a record of 14-1.
Whatever the reason, the lack of attention that had been directed Linton’s way didn’t go unnoticed by the team.
“We received votes in the poll one time, and then we did nothing but keep winning,” Linton coach Brian Flyberg said. “Being ignored bothered the girls. The guys are always in there and we feel like we’ve got a pretty solid team.
“We went 38-2 in our summer league and only lost one starter.”
Those are pretty scary words, considering they’re coming from a coach who’s guided the Lions to seven state tournaments and four region runner-up trophies since 1994. Linton just missed capturing the state championship in 2004, falling to Larimore that season 38-37.
But flying under the radar does have its advantages. For starters, it keeps a good team wanting to prove more and the Lions will get that chance starting Tuesday in Jamestown.
Linton will meet up with No. 6-ranked Central Cass (14-1) in the annual Linton Class B Basketball Jamboree at the Civic Center, and will then host Kidder County on Thursday.
“We’ve got some real good tests coming up,” Flyberg said. “If we’re going to find some weaknesses, we’ll have the right opponents to do that.”
But finding weaknesses in the Linton lineup will be tough, and it all starts in the post with all-district and all-conference seniors Alexis Jasper (5-foot-9) and Lacey Ryckman (6-foot). Jasper is currently leading the way, averaging 15.0 points per contest, but Ryckman is also averaging just over 10 points per game.
“We’ve got two legitimate post players, a right-hander (Jasper) and a left-hander (Ryckman). Jasper has been the most consistent this season,” Flyberg said. “But we have another major contributor coming off the bench, if either of our posts are off. Sophomore Kayln Schneider (5-8) is averaging 11 points a game, and she’s a very athletic, leaper-type.
“She’s made a difference in quite a few games.”
But the one spot on the floor that isn’t quite the same for Linton this season, when compared to its state-tournament teams of the past, is at point guard.
“We’re a little different this season. We’ve never been as strong inside as we are now, but we’re not the ball-handlers that we were,” Flyberg said. “We had such good point guards for so many years. Right now we’re kind of point guard by committee, and whoever’s got the ball is the one who’s on that night.”
At the point on most nights for the Lions is 5-7 senior Christa Nagel, who is averaging 7 points a game.
“Paula Nagel is a second point guard to go to if Christa is off,” Flyberg said. “Paula has come off the bench and has played a lot of minutes.”
Other major contributors to the team have been starters Hailey Dockter and Nicole Hulm. Hulm, a 5-6 junior, is also averaging over 10 points per game.
“This team is hard to guard because they are so balanced. We can score from anywhere, inside and out,” Flyberg said. “The girls kind of feed off each other when they are playing well.”
The Lions ended last season with a third-place finish in the Region 3 tournament and an overall record of 19-6. To improve on this year’s finish, Linton will need to find an answer for Kidder County and 5-11 senior Eli Benz, and a win over Central Cass on Tuesday would be a step in the right direction.
“I think we’re a little deeper than (Kidder County), but they’re able to go to Benz. They’ve won a couple of close games and she’s been the reason why,” Flyberg said. “We expect to end up playing them three times, so we’ve got a lot of time to adjust to her.
“But I think there are three really good teams in the region, with Napoleon being the other power. We played them at home and they impressed me.”
The road won’t be easy, but Linton has an added incentive to claim another Region 3 title this season.
“The girls have the goal to be the first team to get to state in both volleyball and basketball. That’s what everyone’s shooting for,” Flyberg said. “They want to take that next step and they feel that it’s time to get another banner up there.
“It isn’t going to be easy with Napoleon and Kidder County, but as a coach you want to get in those championship games and whatever happens, happens.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at email@example.com