The Northern State women's basketball team brings a dangerous combination of size and smarts to tonight's 6 p.m. matchup against Minot State University at the MSU Dome.
The Wolves' five starters are an average of 6-feet tall, including three players 6-foot-1 or taller. Their 35th year coach, Curt Fredrickson, has 728 career wins and is a tactician who installs far more set plays than opponents can even bother preparing for. The challenge for the Beavers tonight is to hold their own against the Wolves' size and attempt to disrupt their offensive flow.
Last season, Northern State's tall guards and wings repeatedly scored and rebounded over MSU's smaller counterparts, leading the Wolves to a 72-57 win. The Beavers responded with a 60-50 victory at Northern State later in the season.
Minot State University junior forward Christina Boag goes up for a layup Saturday against the University of Mary at the MSU Dome.
"Last year, he just gave us a lesson on where to find the weaker defender or the mismatch and pick on that person," MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said. "They did that time and time again, and he'll continue to do that. If you go zone, they'll pick that apart. He's just a master at execution."
The Beavers are much bigger than last season with the return of starting junior forwards Katie Hardy (6-foot) and Christina Boag (6-2) from injury. Still, MSU (5-0 overall, 1-0 Northern Sun) hopes to use its quickness to disrupt Northern State (5-0, 1-0).
"They're not a fast-break team," MSU senior guard Alisha "Speedy" Jones said. "They want to call their sets out so we're hoping to move the pace faster, not let them set up and use the whole shot clock. We'll probably be doing some hard pressure defense on them."
Today: vs. Northern State, 6 p.m.
Records: Northern State 5-0 overall, 1-0 NSIC; Minot State 5-0 overall, 1-0 NSIC.
Coaches: Northern State - Curt Fredrickson (727-270, 35th season); Minot State - Sheila Green Gerding (320-213, 19th season).
Northern State - Paige Waytashek (5-11, Fr., G, 9.6 ppg, 2.2 apg); Allison Kusler (5-9, Sr., G, 12.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Megan Mutchler (6-1, Jr., F, 14.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Rachel Krogman (6-1, Jr., F, 16.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg); Sadie Stotesberg (6-2, Jr., C, 6.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
Minot State - Morgan Klose (5-9, Jr., G, 6.6 ppg, 3.6 apg); Katie Hardy (6-0, Jr., F, 11.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Alisha Jones (5-7, Sr., G, 12.6 ppg, 3.8 apg); Carly Boag (6-2, Sr., F, 23.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg); Christina Boag (6-2, Jr., F, 11.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
Series history - Northern State leads the all-time series 18-3. The teams split a pair of meetings last season, each winning on the road.
Notes: Fredrickson is one of two NCAA Division II coaches to reach 700 wins. Before the Wolves were a Division II program, Fredrickson's teams won two national championships at the NAIA Division II level (1992, 1994). ... MSU's Boag twins are tied atop the NSIC in steals (3.4 per game). Carly is leading the league in points (23 ppg) and field-goal percentage (65.7). ... Krogman is averaging a league-best 4.4 offensive rebounds. ... Something has to give on MSU's offensive end. The Beavers are scoring 80 points per outing, while the Wolves allow an average of 58.
Northern State is led by 6-1 junior forward Rachel Krogman, who averages team highs of 16.4 points and 10 rebounds per game - including a conference-best 4.4 offensive boards per contest.
"She gets position early and then you can't move her out," Green Gerding said. "A lot of times when kids are big and strong like that, once they have position, you have to work like crazy and do what you can to limit those offensive rebounds. She's a smart player and she'll still find ways so if you can limit other people from getting theirs, then you might have a shot."
Similarly, the Beavers are led by a double-double machine in the post. Senior forward Carly Boag, Christina's twin, is leading the NSIC in points per game (23) and field-goal percentage (65.7). She's also averaging 10 rebounds per outing.
Both teams have been solid offensively against mediocre early season competition. The game may come down to who can get stops, and both squads are holding opponents to less than 35 percent shooting.
"The key playing against them is trying to stretch the floor out, not have them so cluttered into the paint," Jones said. "Because that's what they're going to try to do, stay in the paint and use their long arms. We're gonna try to get them moving and hopefully distract them a little bit so we can get what we want in our offensive flow."
After tonight's tough test, the Beavers play post-oriented Minnesota State-Moorhead (4-1, 0-1) on Saturday. The rest of the conference schedule is composed of weekend contests on consecutive days.
"Now we find out who's tough," Hardy said. "Going back-to-back nights in the NSIC, I've never experienced it because I didn't play last year with my shoulder (injury) but it's just about how tough are you gonna be. When you get drained, it's just mental. You gotta pull yourself out of it and play."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.