HOLMGREN: By keeping things simple, Bishop Ryan came close to perfection
As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Minot State Dome on Saturday night, Bishop Ryan solidified its place in history as one of the all-time greatest dynasties – if not the greatest – in North Dakota Class B girls basketball.
The Lions’ recent four-year run was unprecedented, and likely won’t be replicated anytime soon.
One hundred seven victories. Eleven state tournament wins. Three state titles.
During that stretch, Ryan broke the state record for consecutives wins with 63, besting Larimore’s old mark by six. The Lions own an active streak of 83 straight wins against Class B opponents. The school’s four state titles all time and three in a row tie Bottineau for the most ever in each category.
All of this is well-documented.
And the Lions’ success stemmed from their focus on sports writers’ biggest pet peeve – “the little things” – rather than the wins and losses.
Time after time, Ryan coach Julie Stewart and her players spouted out every clichin the book.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time.”
“We just want to get better every time we step on the floor.”
“We’re focused on working hard in practice and in games. As long as we give it our all, we’ll be satisfied.”
Journalists hate those types of quotes. They’re called coach speak – what a coach often says instead of actually answering the question in an effort to be politically correct.
We want players and coaches to tell it like it is and shoot from the hip.
But the thing is, the Lions were telling the truth. It wasn’t an act.
For Ryan’s girls basketball program, caring about “the little things” has been the key to its success.
The Lions have kept it simple and worried about fine-tuning their 1-3-1 zone and outlet passes rather than listening to what anyone and everyone has to say about their winning streak, chasing more state championships and how they should move up to Class A (which is absurd on many levels, but that’s neither here nor there).
Yes, Stewart has been blessed with talent, most notably senior forwards Hannah Stewart and Gabbie Bohl along with Anika Rovig, who now plays for Cuesta College in California.
Where Julie Stewart has thrived is in getting her team to “buy in” – another classic case of coach speak.
But it’s true, she did exactly that. She kept her best players’ noses to the grindstone, right alongside the role players, who contributed what’s been asked of them.
Former Lions like Laurin Leidholt, Quinn Harmon and Sydney Landsiedel weren’t stars. But without those players pulling their weight, the winning streak doesn’t happen and the state titles are a long shot. All-state selections like Stewart, Bohl and Rovig needed them.
Lakota-Edmore senior forward Fallyn Freije is an example of one player with limited help from her supporting cast. Freije, headed to the University of North Dakota, carried her team to a fifth-place finish over the weekend. On the biggest stage, though, one player isn’t enough, and neither is two.
Ryan senior guard Maddie Wald progressed well through Julie Stewart’s system, and without her quarterfinal performance against Shiloh Christian, the Skyhawks might’ve had a chance at an upset while Hannah Stewart dealt with foul trouble.
Junior guard Sheyenne Schmidt hit four 3-pointers in the championship game against Kindred.
“We had to pick our poison,” Kindred coach Perry Piatz said.
Without that spark, the Vikings would’ve been level at halftime, needing to beat Ryan only in the second half.
Julie Stewart’s players know their roles.
She’s kept it simple for them:?Do your jobs. Focus on the little things.
“We just need to take it one game at a time and when the first game starts we need to take it one play at a time and one pass at a time,” Hannah Stewart said before the state tournament.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
That laser focus helped the Lions flirt with perfection, losing once in three years.
Ryan is a long shot to win a fourth straight state title, and even to make the 2016 state tournament.
But the Lions’ detractors won’t see them fall off the wagon in upcoming years.
Beyond the team and individual accolades, there’s a plan that’s worked time and again.
Here’s a clich: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Ryan Holmgren is the sports editor of The Minot Daily News. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.