Taking a look at this year's Our Redeemer's Christian School girls basketball team, one thing stands out above the rest.
The Knights are small.
Sophomore forward McKensie Popinga stands the tallest at 5-foot-11, followed by senior centers Emily VanLith and Stephane Jesperson at 5-10. Seven Knights measure 5-6 or shorter with eighth-grade guard Lauren Henderickson earning the distinction as ORCS' shortest player on the court at 5-1.
Our Redeemer’s senior forward Billie Bangen, center, dribbles the ball down court as eighth-grader Morgan Olson, right, looks for a pass during practice Thursday at ORCS.
The Knights don't consider their lack of height to be a weakness, but rather a strength.
"We lost a lot of players and we have a small basketball team, but smaller makes it more unified," senior forward Ashley Koppinger said.
Aside from unity, the Knights have a notable strength that most small teams tend to possess - speed.
Meet the Knights
Seniors - Katie Folden, Ashley Koppinger, Stephane Jesperson, Billie Bangen, Emily VanLith
Juniors - McKinzie Fettig, Brooke Knutson, Jennifer Skees
Sophomores - Gabi Boeckel, McKensie Popinga, Megan Hogue
Eighth-graders - Lauren Hendrickson, Morgan Olson, Calissa Ree, Emily Maasjo.
December - 17-21, at Sawyer Invite
January - 3, vs. Tioga, 5:45 p.m.; 4, vs. Dickinson Trinity at Shiloh Christian, 2 p.m.; 5, at Shiloh Christian, 5:30 p.m.; 11, at Westhope-Newburg, 5:45 p.m.; 12, vs. Max, 2:30 p.m.; 14, at Garrison, 7:15 p.m.; 17, vs. Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, 5:45 p.m.; 22, at Bishop Ryan, 5:45 p.m.; 25, vs. Kenmare, 5:45 p.m.; 31, at Glenburn, 5:45 p.m.
February - 4, vs. Des Lacs-Burlington, 4:15 p.m.; 7, vs. Bottineau, 5:45 p.m.; 9, vs. Berthold at Minot Municipal Auditorium, 5:45 p.m.; 12, at Surrey, 5:45 p.m.; 19, vs. Velva, 7:15 p.m.; 21, vs. North Shore, 5:45 p.m.
"We definitely have a lot of speed and we try to use that to our advantage," VanLith said. "Since we aren't that big, we like to try to tire other teams out and keep the game moving."
Said Koppinger: "We don't have a lot of height, but we do have a lot of speed. We're going to be looking to push the ball up the floor instead of staying in one spot for too long."
Koppinger - an all-district and all-region team selection last year - led an offense that averaged 53.6 points per game last season. But when the Knights were unable to establish an uptempo-style offense and were forced to play in the half court, ORCS was held to 44 points per contest in 10 losses.
ORCS coach Kory Nelson said the transition game will be the primary form of offense, but his team can play in the half court.
"We want to try and get the ball out whether the other team scores on us or we get a rebound," Nelson said. "We want to get the ball up the court as fast as possible to create mismatches. We do have a pretty good half court (offense) that we can get into if we have to, but we prefer not to use it if we don't have to."
Nelson said the Knights have been working on ball-handling skills and getting the offense "fine-tuned" prior to the start of the season, which begins today at 6 p.m. against North Shore at the Sawyer Invite.
Nelson also said ORCS will use its speed not just on the offensive side of the ball, but on defense as well.
"We do a lot of full-court defense," he said. "We figure we're faster than most teams we're going to go up against. It's a lot of uptempo and full-court pressure."
The Knights finished second in the District 12 tournament last season, losing to cross-town rival Bishop Ryan in the title game. The Lions got the best of ORCS last season, winning both matchups by an average of 33 points.
"We're excited to play them because it's a great challenge," VanLith said. "I'm excited because they're very good and it's fun to play against good teams."
The Knights have not beaten Ryan since January 2010. The two teams meet for the first time this season on Jan. 22 at Ryan.
"We just want to go and play our game when we play (Bishop Ryan)," Nelson said. "Obviously they have talent at every spot. We're just trying to focus on getting better every week and hopefully by tournament time we can compete with Ryan."