Win or lose, it's going to be a bittersweet night for Bishop Ryan boys basketball coach Brock Teets.
Ryan's first-year coach returns to the place he called home for five successful seasons: Berthold.
The Lions (4-2) tip off their District 12 schedule tonight at 7:15 on the road against the seventh-ranked Bombers (8-0). It's just the second game away from home for Ryan, but could be the most difficult all season. Teets said it's a tall order for visiting teams to leave Berthold with a victory.
First-year Bishop Ryan boys basketball coach Brock Teets, center, returns to Berthold tonight in the District 12 opener for both teams. Teets coached the Bombers for five seasons, making three state tournament appearances.
"It's a great home-court advantage," Teets said. "It's a small gym. It's really tight and I'm sure it will be a packed house. It's loud and has the old-school feel to it. The crowd's right on top of you. They just don't lose on their home floor."
The Bombers have played just twice at home this season, defeating Drake-Anamoose 72-52 and Parshall 88-49. It hasn't mattered where Berthold has played as it is winning by more than 30 points per game.
"I'm expecting it to be electric," first-year Berthold coach Chris Brown said. "It's a big game for both teams. You always want to start district play on top. It could mean a lot in terms of district seeding. We're looking forward to it."
Brown - a Berthold graduate - served as an assistant under Teets in 2011 before spending the next two years as an assistant at Des Lacs-Burlington under Doug Wagner. A member of the Berthold boys basketball team during his youth, Brown knew the program's importance well before taking the head coaching position.
"Berthold is basketball," he said. "Everyone comes out and supports the team. I couldn't ask for a better place to get support from the community."
A big reason for Berthold's success is junior guard Austin Lee and his ability to drain shots from behind the 3-point line. The sharpshooter averages 25.6 points per contest and has scored at least 21 points in seven of eight games this year. Lee scored a season-high 36 points against D-A and 33 the game before against Tioga in the Stanley Lions Tournament championship.
"He's just wired right," Teets said. "Since he was a freshman, Austin's played a key role on our team when we made a state tournament run. There's no stage that's too big for him. The bigger the game the better he's going to play. ...
"I don't know of anybody who's playing better offensively than Austin. He's a special player. He's one of the best players in the state hands down."
Said Brown: "The best couple words to describe him is 'gym rat'. He shows up on days where there's not practice and stays after practice improving his game. He never wants to let anyone down and he wants to be the best he can be for his teammates."
Ryan has its own high-scoring guard. Senior Brody Bosch leads the Lions in scoring with 22.8 points per game. His largest output came on the road - a 30-point game in a 75-63 win at Dunseith.
Teets said it's difficult to compare Lee and Bosch because they get their points in different ways.
"Both kids are athletic," he said. "Austin is probably a better perimeter player and Brody may be better at driving. They're highly competitive kids. Austin is more of a 3-point shooter and Brody is such a good slasher."
Emotions will be running high for everyone involved as the coach that took the Bombers to three state tournaments and won 116 games will be on the opposing sideline. But Teets said once the ball goes up it's just another basketball game and the focus turns to leaving Berthold with a victory, which has been a near impossible feat in recent years.
"To go up there you have to be mentally and physically tough," Teets said. "Those Berthold kids are experienced and they're proven winners. If we can get a win in Berthold, we're going to earn it. It's not going to be handed to us. It's going to be a hornets' nest up there and we need to be mentally prepared."
Region 4 loaded with talent
It's only January, but Region 4 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive regions in girls basketball this season.
The region sports three ranked teams - No. 4 North Star, No. 8 Lakota-Edmore and No. 9 Rolla - with Carrington receiving votes in the latest poll. The four teams are a combined 18-3 with all three losses coming against the current top 10.
"I feel Lakota-Edmore and Carrington are very strong and are some of the top teams in the state - not just in the region, but the state," North Star coach Sherri Miller said. "Then you have Rolette-Wolford, you have Rolla. Yeah, it's going to be a tough one."
L-E (4-2) and Carrington (5-1) squared off in the CNDC Tournament semifinals Saturday, with the Raiders coming away with a 53-40 victory. L-E was slated to play North Star (5-0) in the championship Monday, but weather canceled the tournament's final day.
The Raiders are the only two-loss team among the four contenders, but those are to No. 1 Bishop Ryan and No. 2 Thompson in a span of three days. Junior forward Fallyn Freije put up 45 points against the Lions in a 72-57 loss, but the Raiders have won their last two.
The Cardinals - averaging 65.2 points per game - are led by seniors Jacey Engelhorn and Kayla Hochhalter. Carrington bounced back from its first loss of the season with a win against New Rockford-Sheyenne on Tuesday.
While L-E and Carrington battle it out in their district, North Star and Rolla (4-0) fight for District 8 supremacy. The Bearcats have the most prolific offense, averaging 81.4 points per game. Junior guard Sarah Hagler and senior guard Allie Heisler have put up big numbers in five games. Hagler leads North Star with 20 points per game, followed closely by Heisler (18).
The Bearcats' schedule has been anything but daunting so far. Their toughest contest was a 20-point victory against Devils Lake's JV on Saturday. The rest of North Star's wins have been against opponents with a 4-18 combined record. But the schedule does get tougher with trips to Cavalier (Monday) and Rolla (Jan. 21) and home contests against Langdon (Jan. 24) and Carrington (Feb. 1).
While offense is North Star's biggest strength, Rolla turns to its defense to get the job done. The Bulldogs surrender just 33 points per game. Rolla hasn't allowed on opponent to score 40 points in four games. TGU tallied the most with 39 in a 22-point victory for the Bulldogs in the CNDC Tournament championship Dec. 21.
Rolla averages slightly less than 55 points per game, but it has two capable scorers in senior Mary Jo Guilbert and junior Alli Vandal. The two combined for 34.7 points per contest in the CNDC Tournament.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.