EYE ON PRIZE: Can Thunder end state tourney drought?
PINGREE, N.D.—It wasn't easy for Medina-Pingree-Buchanan girls basketball coach Brett Thielges to address the elephant in the locker room Monday night.
Talented Thunder teams guided by Thielges have lost in the semifinals of the Class B Region 3 tournament the past two seasons. And, the pressure has been building.
Pingree-Buchanan hasn't been represented at a Class B state girls basketball tournament since 1996. Medina, rather remarkably, has never made the trip.
Now senior-laden, and ranked No. 2 in the state, it's time for M-P-B to push its chips into the center of the table. The Thunder dismantled visiting New Rockford-Sheyenne 66-24 in their regular-season finale, and now faces either Napoleon-Gackle-Streeter or South Border in the semifinals of the District 6 tournament Friday in Hazelton.
"I think the consensus amongst the team is we're ready for that next step," said Thielges, whose Thunder will be gunning for a District 6 tourney three-peat. "Obviously, it starts with the district tournament."
It can be argued M-P-B's journey began back in November, when the Thunder reached—and lost in—its first-ever Region 3 volleyball championship match. The Thunder fell in four sets to eventual three-time consecutive state champion LaMoure-Litchville-Marion, also on the court in Hazelton.
"That was the first time either of our (schools) had been in a region championship for volleyball," said M-P-B senior forward Lauren Moser, who was also a member of the volleyball team. "Our nerves just took over ... but I think that's prepared us a lot."
Also weighing in has to be the past two regional basketball tournaments played at the Jamestown Civic Center. M-P-B has fallen by exactly five points to Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier in back-to-back Region 3 tournament semifinal games, en route to 18- and 19-win seasons and a third-place prize.
"I think we have to have the mentality in practice to focus on one game at a time and not look too far into the future," said M-P-B 6-foot-3 senior center, and Northern State University volleyball recruit, Halle Uehran. "Just focus on one game at a time and go from there."
The Thunder have literally brought the thunder defensively this season, which has been a major factor in the team's success. M-P-B limited fifth-ranked Langdon-Edmore-Munich to just 20 total points in a 50-20 Thunder victory in Langdon on Jan. 20.
M-P-B held the Cardinals to just six points in the first quarter and none—zero—in the second quarter.
"When we're all doing our job, we work together so well," Moser said. "We all have one goal in mind and we just keep working hard."
"That's been a combination of everything," Thielges added. "Obviously our size, and we've got a lot of length on the perimeter too. We've also been doing a good job of limiting teams to one possession and getting the stops when we need them."
The Thunder (17-2) have defeated Kidder County for both its District 6 titles the past two seasons. Kidder County is receiving votes in the Class B girls state media rankings, while LaMoure-L-M, Edgeley-K-M and Carrington—all Region 3 teams—are all ranked inside the top 10.
A big, 56-45, win over LaMoure-L-M at Target Center in Minneapolis on Dec. 28 kicked off 11 straight wins for the Thunder to close the regular season.
"We know that our district and region are both really tough," Moser said. "Everyone is going to have to come to practice this week ready to go and have the mentality of just getting better every day."
That's what it'll take for M-P-B to finally rid the monkey dancing on its back.
"The girls know as well as anyone that our district tournament is huge," Thielges said. "They know coming out of that tournament with the No. 1 seed is key."
(2) Medina-Pingree-Buchanan 66, New Rockford-Sheyenne 24
NRS 7 12 15 24
MPB 18 43 58 66
NRS—Carlie Lies 9, Dani Bjerke 6, Alli Dockter 3, Brianna Price 2, Kenna Munson 2, Ashlynn Benson 2. Totals: 9 FG, 4-8 FT, 12 fouls. 3-pointers: Dockter, Bjerke.
MPB—Amanda Allen 16, Megan Moser 14, Halle Uehran 10, Jayden Pollert 9, Lauren Moser 7, Taylor Sabinash 6, Gracie Bohl 4. Totals: 26 FG, 8-11 FT, 10 fouls. 3-pointers: Allen 4, M. Moser 2.
Records: MPB 17-2. NRS 7-12.