Braves girls face intimidating schedule
Mandan girls basketball coach Len Stanley sounds a cautionary word for the Braves’ faithful fans. Don’t judge the Braves on the first month of the season.
Last season, with a veteran team that went on to place sixth in the state, Mandan lost six of its first seven decisions.
The front end of this season’s schedule is every bit as intimidating as it was a year ago, and the Braves welcome back only one returning starter.
That’s the stuff of which coaches’ nightmares are made.
“Our schedule does us no favors. … We open up at Jamestown, we’ve got Century the next week and then we go down to the Gillette ( Wyo.) tournament that’s got as strong a field coming as I’ve ever seen,” Stanley said. “When we come back from Gillette, we’ve got Bismarck and Minot, so we get all the heavyweights right away.”
Century (No. 1), Bismarck (No. 2) and Jamestown (No. 5) are all ranked in the top eche- lon by The Hoopster, the state’s annual preseason basketball publication.
“I’ve always said we come out the better for it by playing the better competition,” Stanley said. “We’ll know where we are pretty quickly, I think.”
In that brutal seven-game run, only the Minot game is in Mandan. Additionally, lots of on-the-job learning is going to be going on.
Graduation took a knife to Mandan’s girls basketball ros-ter. McKayla Howling Wolf (9.1 ppg, 37 3-pointers), a 5-foot-9 senior guard, is the only starter from last year’s team to return.
Stanley said the Braves will be starting from square one.
“If you have a point guard and a post you’re going to win a ton of basketball games. This will be the first time we haven’t had a seasoned point guard out there and it’s going to be a heck of a challenge,” he said.
Aside from Howling Wolf, the only veterans with meaningful varsity playing time are Chelsea Peterson, a 5-8 senior forward, and Hannah Hanson, a 5-11 sophomore post. Peter- son (3.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) played in every game last season, averaging 19 minutes. Hanson (3.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg) picked up 136 minutes of playing time in 13 games as a freshman.
“Howling Wolf, Peterson and Hanson have to be on the floor for us,” Stanley said.
Stanley is looking for both leadership and production from Howling Wolf and Peterson.
“Howling Wolf has been around a long time, and she’s going to have to step up. … She’s going to have to expand her game and take the ball to the basket more,” he said. “I’ve been really pleased with the way she and Peterson have matured. They’re going to have to be leaders on the team.”
Stanley is expecting some big things from Peterson, a standout track athlete. She won the 300-meter hurdles, placed second in the 100 hurdles, took fourth in the 200 and fifth in the 100 at the state track meet last spring.
“Peterson is a heck of an athlete. She’s going to have to provide scoring in the paint. She’s flat-out quick,” Stanley said. “When she gets a rebound she can take off and beat people to the other end. She did that consistently all summer long.”
Although she’s just a sophomore, Hanson is going to have to be a presence inside.
“Hannah got some big minutes due to injuries. … We’re hoping she’ll be a pretty good post player. She’s going to have to provide some rebounding and scoring,” Stanley said.
Mandan will be looking for backcourt help from a couple of freshmen.
“We have a couple of freshmen we’re going to have to force feed — Kiara Ogden and Mackensi Higlin. … Our guard play is really thin, so they’ll have to step in and help out,” Stanley said.
Ogden is a 5-6 freshman and Higlin is a 5-9 freshman.
Stanley is also looking for minutes from Sheyanne LaVallie, a 5-10 junior; Emily Bendish, a 5-9 junior; and Alecia Weiand, a 5-9 sophomore.
“LaVallie should be able to contribute. … Bendish and Weiand will be backup posts,” Stanley said. “Those (eight) kids are going to be the nucleus. That’s where the playing time will be.”
With a bearcat of an early schedule and a young roster, Stanley is aware he can’t let his players get overwhelmed in December.
“I guess that’s why we get paid the big bucks,” he said with a laugh. “I guess I’m going to have to become more of a psychologist this year than anything. We’ll have to stay with the upbeat and the positive. It’s going to be a challenge. … It’s just a matter of keeping their daubers up until they get through that opening stretch of games.”
By Steve Thomas