HOLMGREN: Bishop Ryan vs. Shanley is good for N.D. girls basketball

Shortly after Bishop Ryan’s girls basketball team won its second straight Class B title – tying a state record in the process with 57 consecutive wins – I wrote a column arguing that it’s time for a Class A team to finally schedule the Lions.

On Tuesday, my wish was granted.

Ryan Advancement Director Bryan Kramer announced that the Lions will play defending Class A champion Shanley on Dec. 27 in Bismarck at the University of Mary’s McDowell Activity Center. The game will be part of an event including the state’s four Catholic schools.

Class A St. Mary’s will face Class B Dickinson Trinity at 5 p.m., followed by the marquee Ryan-Shanley matchup at 7 p.m.

“It’s a unique, exciting opportunity for the 2014 A and B champions to compete,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “From year to year, it’s impossible to know who is going to be solid because of the many variables that come into play. However, I like our returning leadership and experience and I’m sure Shanley can say the same.”

Both teams are certainly favored to repeat in their respective classes.

Ryan returns all-state forwards Hannah Stewart and Gabbie Bohl, while Shanley brings back standout point guard Sarah Jacobson and a bevy of supporting cast members.

Last season, the Lions ran the table for a second straight year, finishing a 28-0 campaign with a 59-54 win over No. 3 Shiloh Christian in the state championship. Meanwhile, the Deacons won their final 16 contests, including a 53-29 rout of Minot High in the state final.

During Ryan’s historic win streak, exactly zero victories have come against Class A opposition. Now the Lions will get a crack at one of the best – if not the best – Class A has to offer.

“People will enjoy seeing how these teams can stack up sometimes,” Kramer said. “Oftentimes this type of situation isn’t always real healthy. But in this case, I think people kind of want to see Shanley and Ryan play and just kind of see where we compare to those real good Class A programs right now.”

That’s exactly right, and this event is an outstanding way to generate buzz about girls basketball in the state of North Dakota.

Unless you have a daughter, relative or family friend playing girls basketball this winter, chances are you weren’t planning on paying attention to the sport on Dec. 27. But now, all prep sports fans across the state will be keeping tabs on the big game in Bismarck that evening.

This is what the state needs, and it’s not just because two defending state champions are squaring off; it’s simply a chance to see good, high-level basketball.

“The whole reason I wanted to do this was because it is great for North Dakota girls basketball,” Shanley coach Tim Jacobson said. “I think we need a little shot in the arm to create a little more interest. I think it is going to be great.”

As I write this Tuesday evening, the highlight of my day so far – aside from bringing my 4-month-old golden retriever to the dog park this afternoon – has been talking to Julie Stewart on the phone about the Shanley game for about 20 minutes. It’s fascinating.

How will the Deacons defend Hannah Stewart and Bohl down low? Will the Lions be able to slow down Sarah Jacobson?

It’s got people talking girls basketball in mid-September, and it’s only going to become more hyped as the game draws nearer.

“It’s fun to face and play teams that you haven’t seen,” Julie Stewart said. “This is something unique that we have never done. I’m excited for the girls.”

I’m excited, too.

Now, can Ryan get Minot on its schedule?

Just kidding. Pickers can’t be choosers.

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.