The New Town girls basketball team spent the offseason hearing chatter about the players they lost from last season's squad that finished seventh at the state tournament and less about those still wearing purple and gold.
The Eagles are looking to prove their skeptics wrong and once again bring home a Region 8 crown. Having won six of its first eight games this year, New Town is doing just fine with the pieces they have.
"We came into the season prepared for anything," New Town coach Cliff Tollefson said. "These girls have heard a lot in the preseason of what was lost, but when the season started, we focused on the players that are here and decided we were going to do our best and prove something. That was their goal - to prove people wrong or prove they are a good basketball team and good basketball players."
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New Town senior Jasmyne Big Crow is averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for the Eagles (6-2).
The Eagles were expected to lose just two players from last year's team - seniors Taylor McGrady and Viola Wise Spirit - only to see three key figures transfer during the summer. Forwards Gabby Wilkinson and Mia Wilkinson and guard Jaye Two Bears all left for Shiloh Christian. Tollefson - in his first season at the helm of the Eagles - said it was evident at the end of last season that the trio would not be back.
The loss of three of its key returning players and two senior to graduation - responsible for 78 percent of the team's scoring and 73 percent of the rebounding - left New Town looking vulnerable to the rest of Region 8. The reigning two-time region champion was crushed by defending state champion Bishop Ryan 71-33 in the second game of the season and it appeared as if it might be a long year for the Eagles.
But New Town has found its new big three in seniors Baeleigh Brady, Jasmyne Big Crow and LaRiah Quick Bear, and the Eagles have won five of their last six games. New Town's only other loss came at No. 3 Beach.
"Baeleigh is an excellent scorer," Tollefson said. "A lot of players can be shooters, she's a scorer. If she doesn't score from the outside, she finds it inside. If it's not there inside, she can knock it down from the outside."
Brady paces the Eagles with 21.4 points per game, followed by Big Crow (14) and Quick Bear (7.6). Big Crow leads New Town with 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game. Big Crow has recorded double-doubles in six straight games.
"She's such a hard worker," Tollefson said of Big Crow. "She does just about everything. She doesn't have the most points every game, but most times she has double figures. It's hard to take her out of the game. She always has such energy on the floor all the time."
After scoring just four points combined in her first two games this season, Quick Bear has scored at least eight in each contest since.
Tollefson said while Brady and Big Crow are New Town's biggest scoring threats, there's always that third person that steps up. In Turtle Mountain, it was senior forward Rayessa Baker, scoring a season-high 14 points. Against Dickinson Trinity, it was Chelsea Quick Bear chipping in 12 points. And in a comeback victory against Watford City on Tuesday, LaRiah Quick Bear recorded 11 points and nine rebounds.
The 73-65 win at Watford City has been the signature win for the Eagles thus far. New Town trailed the Wolves by 14 at halftime, but scored 47 points in the second half to earn a big early-season District 16 victory. Brady, Big Crow and LaRiah Quick Bear combined for 57 points.
"Against one of our toughest district opponents and coming back on their home floor, I think that proves that these girls are never going to give up," Tollefson said. "Especially against a quality district opponent, that does speak volumes and they're ready for a battle no matter how much time is left on the clock, no matter what the scoreboard says."
St. John offense tough to stop
For many teams playing against the St. John boys basketball team this season, holding the Woodchucks under 70 points will be a moral victory despite would the scoreboard would read after the game.
Few teams have accomplished this feat and fewer have managed to outscore them. St. John (7-2) has been held under 70 points just twice and is averaging 78.4 points per game - second most among Class B teams (New Town at 79 ppg).
"Right now we have a lot of speed on our team and we're getting into a lot of transition offense," St. John coach Steve Poitra said. "We're pushing more than we have in the past and the transition wears on teams."
The Woodchucks' offense has kicked into high gear in the last month. St. John averaged 89.8 points per contest in a four-game span that included a 101-64 win at Warwick on Dec. 14.
Even in defeat, the Woodchucks are putting up impressive numbers. St. John scored 71 points on Cavalier's top-ranked defense on Tuesday in an 80-71 loss. The Tornadoes entered the contest allowing an average of 41.6 points per game.
Leading the offense is sophomore Dalton Poitra, Steve's son, who is averaging 23.8 points per game. Poitra has tallied two 30-point games and his lowest output was 19 in a 68-31 victory against TGU in the CNDC Tournament semifinals.
"Dalton has always been an all-around scoring type of ball player," Steve Poitra said. "He's always been a great shooter. His speed and ability to get to the rim when he has to has really helped him this year. In the past he has been more of a spot-up shooter."
Poitra isn't the only scoring threat as St. John has two others averaging in double figures and another at 9.1 Senior Sean Jay is an all-around player with 20.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. Jay has tallied a double-double in all but two contests.
"With Sean doing so much scoring inside 15 feet really helps us open up space for Dalton and Keifer (Langan) and the other players," Steve Poitra said. "They get a lot of good looks from the double and triple teams he's been drawing."
Senior Kiefer Langan is the other Woodchuck averaging double figures with 12.9 points per game. Langen netted a season-best 25 points against Rolla on Dec. 19 and recorded a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds against TGU.
Nearly a three-week layoff didn't hamper St. John's offense in the least. Nineteen days removed from a 90-58 win against Rolla, the Woodchucks scored 80 points against Munich-Starkweather and 88 against Rolette-Wolford two days later.
Landenberger latest to reach milestone
Underwood girls basketball coach Toni Cottingham knew senior Abby Landenberger was going to eclipse the 1,000-point threshold this season. It was just a matter of when that would be.
Landenberger's milestone came Tuesday in a 59-35 victory at Surrey. The 5-foot-6 guard scored a game-high 19 points and added five steals for the Comets (9-0 overall, 2-0 District 10).
A member of the varsity squad since eighth grade and is a four-year starter.
"She's a gym rat," Cottingham said. "She loves being in there. She's the last one to leave the gym. She's a lot of fun to coach."
Cottingham, in her 20th season with the Comets, has coached Landenberger for the past five seasons. The two have been through good times and bad. In Langenberger's freshman and sophomore campaigns, Underwood went 13-30, but in the last two seasons, the Comets are 24-10.
"She's been the heart of our offense for a few years now," Cottingham said. "She's very much involved in every aspect of the game and is a catalyst for us. She gets us going and picks up the other players when things aren't going well. She's been instrumental for us."
Landenberger joins Des Lacs-Burlington senior Chris Duke, Bishop Ryan senior Anika Rovig and junior Gabbie Bohl and Powers Lake senior Levi Hoiby as area athletes to hit the 1,000-point plateau this season.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.