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Ellendale moves on

Ellendale’s Isabel Wedell scores as Warwick’s Kaylean Lohnas (24), Rayanne Leaf 924) and BryAnn Robertson (left) defend during Thursday’s first-round game of the Stutsman County Tournament. (John M. Steiner / The Sun)

Last season was a long one for Ellendale’s Shayna Mertz.

The 5-foot-8 senior forward tore the ACL in her right knee a year ago Jan. 3 during the Cardinals’ sixth game of the 2012-13 season. An integral part of the team then and now, she was forced to watch powerlessly as Ellendale came up one win short of what would have been the school’s first ever trip to the state Class B girls basketball tournament.

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The Cards fell to Napoleon 59-41 in last year’s Region 3 championship game and ended the year at 16-7.

“It was really frustrating,” Mertz said Thursday at the Jamestown Civic Center. “I wanted to be out there, and everybody knew I wanted to be out there playing with them. I just kept encouraging them and getting ready for this year.”

But 2013 is no longer visible in Ellendale’s review mirror. The team and its five returning senior starters — including Mertz — are able to sum up this year’s goal with just a single breath.

“State,” Mertz smiled.

Ellendale improved to 5-1 on Thursday with a 72-31 victory over Warwick to open the Stutsman County girls basketball tournament. Mertz led the way posting a game-high 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds.

The only evidence left of what was a completely torn ACL was a protective sleeve she wore on her right leg.

“It feels good,” Mertz said of her knee. “I skipped out on volleyball this year to be ready for basketball. I wanted to be back 100 percent, and be better or as good as I was.”

Ellendale and Warwick are on opposite sides of the spectrum this season. The Cardinals have aspirations of a deep playoff run, while the Warriors are simply out to gain the experience they need to improve.

Warwick is currently in its first full varsity season after playing four varsity games and 13 JV games a year ago. They kept things interesting early, trailing just 11-9 with less than 2 minutes to play in the first period behind 6 points from freshman Whisper Gourd and a trey by seventh-grader Madison Leaf.

Youth is what Warwick has plenty of. The team played four freshmen and a seventh-grader throughout the second half.

“One of the things we’ve been talking about this year is we are very, very young … and we’re starting to learn,” Warwick coach Kevin Bennefeld said. “That’s our goal for this year is to learn, and we’re seeing growth.”

But Ellendale shifted a gear to close out the opening period, rifling off a 10-0 run behind a Mertz 3-point play and a trey from senior guard Rachel Herman to lead 21-9 to start the second. The Cardinals never looked back.

“(Warwick’s) a young team. I’ve gotten to know coach Bennefeld over the last couple of years,” Ellendale coach Matt Herman said. “They’ve come down to our JV tournament and he’s doing a good job with those girls. I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. They played all four quarters.

“Every time I see them they’re getting better and better.”

Kaylean Lohnas and Gourd led the Warriors with 10 points and 11 rebounds, respectively. Sophomore Isabell Wedell came off the bench to score 14 points for the Cardinals.

Ellendale pulled in an eye-popping 63 rebounds with Rachel Herman snatching 13 of them.

“That’s why we play the games. We basically know that every game we’re going to be outmatched because we’re so young,” Bennefeld said. “It’s just get the experience and go back to practice to work on the things that we need to work on and get better, so that the next game we’re able to improve a little bit more.”

Warwick will face Edgeley-Kulm-Montpelier in consolation play today at 3 p.m., while Ellendale will do battle with first-year co-op Medina-Pingree-Buchanan at 6 in the semifinals.

“If we get off to a good start and we bring the intensity I think things will happen for us here,” Matt Herman said. “I haven’t had a chance to see the new co-op play, but they combined some good girls from a couple of programs that were going in the right direction. M-P-B is a scary outfit, so I’m anxious to see what they’ll have (tonight).”

Stutsman County Girls Basketball Tournament

At Jamestown Civic Center

Thursday’s quarterfinals

No. 1 Ellendale 72, No. 8 Warwick 31

Ellendale 21 37 50 72

Warwick 9 16 28 31

Ellendale — Shayna Mertz 16, Isabel Wedell 14, Madilyn Bommersbach 12, KaLee Hack 9, Dacey Fuller 8, Rachel Herman 4, Brooke Boehm 3, Kirsten Rall 3, Kaitlyn Schimke 2, Eva Byerley 1. Totals: 27-82 FG, 17-28 FT, 3-pointers: 1-13 (Herman 1), 63 Rebounds (Herman 13), 7 Fouls, 14 Assists (Fuller 3, Rall 3), 11 Turnovers, 1 Block (Rall), 14 Steals (Fuller 5).

Warwick — Kaylean Lohnas 10, Whisper Gourd 8, Madison Leaf 6, Rayanne Leaf 5, Agitha Little 2. Totals: 10-50 FG, 6-8 FT, 3-pointers: 5-22 (M. Leaf 2, Lohnas 2, R. Leaf 1), 36 Rebounds (Gourd 11), 21 Fouls (Gourd, Lohnas), 3 Assists (3 with 1), 22 Turnovers, 5 Blocks (Brooke Redfox 2), 9 Steals (Lohnas 3, M. Leaf 3).

Records: Ellendale 5-1; Warwick 0-6.

Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at