Sizing up the District 12 girls basketball season

Alex Eisen/MDN Bishop Ryan's McKinlee Harmon (31) shields the ball from Our Redeemer's Karlee Zablotney (blue) in a game played last season.

The District 12 girls basketball season got underway Tuesday evening with intriguing storylines being bundled together in a blanket of parity that hasn’t been seen in recent years.

The race for the district crown appears to be wide open this season, as the cracks of Bishop Ryan’s dominant dynasty are getting harder to ignore. But, the Lions certainly aren’t going to back down without a fight.

The six-year reign of Ryan winning the District 12 girls basketball tournament produced three straight state championships from 2013-15. Since then, Velva knocked off the Lions twice in the Region 6 semifinals and, in a surprise turn of events, former assistant April Nakatani is now at the helm.

She replaces Julie Stewart, who moved to Edina, Minnesota, at the start of the school year. The departure of the six-year coach and her daughter Annika Stewart, who started last year as a freshman and led the team with 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, leaves a sizable void to be filled.

Ryan also graduates six seniors. But, they at least return McKinlee Harmon, who averaged 9.6 points per game last season.

The Lions cross-town rivals in Our Redeemer’s opened the season Tuesday with a 69-42 win over Westhope/Newburg. Senior Karolynn Winger had a match-high 28 points.

The Knights couldn’t take down Ryan last season, yet it was ORCS that represented Region 6 at the 2017 state tournament for the first time in school history. After the Aggies upset Ryan in the regional semifinals, ORCS staged a remarkable come from behind victory in the regional final with eight points in 55 seconds to force overtime and eventually topped Velva-Sawyer 61-54 for a trip to state.

The Knights placed third at state and finished with a 22-6 overall record.

“I think that state experience helped these girls grow,” ORCS coach Scott Peterson said. “That a little extra effort will push you over the edge. We got a young group that is going to have to learn that. I think we have enough of the older crew to bring those younger ones up there.”

The Knights lose standout Morgan Olson, but return three starters with Winger, Karlee Zablotney and Tessa Olson. The trio also helped the ORCS volleyball team to a fourth-place finish at that state tournament a couple weeks ago.

While Ryan was the only District 12 team not to play Tuesday, Des Lacs-Burlington was the only other District 12 team besides ORCS to win its season opener.

The Lakers edged past Harvey-Wells County, 60-50, with Caitlyn Vogel (22 points) and Kyley Lauf (19) leading the way. DLB trailed at halftime 24-21, but used a 21-point third quarter to pick up the win.

“For the district, I would have to say DLB, Ryan and us (ORCS) would have to be up there,” Peterson said. “But, I would say DLB is the favorite right now with us pushing them. And, I would say, if we play our game the way we should play, then it’s going to be a really good game. And Ryan will be right there as well.”

ORCS and DLB will face each other Jan. 16 at Our Redeemer’s. Ryan will host the cross-town clash between the Lions and Knights on Jan. 2.

As for the rest of the district, it was a rough start to the new season on Tuesday.

Glenburn couldn’t recover from a scoreless first quarter and lost 33-31 to Kenmare. Bailee Bachmeier had a team-high 11 points for the Panthers.

Lewis & Clark-Berthold had double-digit scorers in Toni Hamilton (12), Grace Simons (11) and Corina Pabian (10), but fell flat to TGU 51-41.

Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood had a one-point halftime deficit to Divide County expand to a 42-31 defeat. Twenty-four of the Mavericks’ points came from Kylie Abernathey (14) and Leah Feland (10).

South Prairie suffered a two-point defeat to Bowbells/Burke Central, 50-48, and Surrey dropped a 56-45 contest to Garrison.

They will all have over three months to improve and get ready for postseason play at the District 12 Tournament being held at the Minot Municipal Auditorium from Feb. 8-10. Whether or not we will see somebody end Ryan’s six-year District 12 winning streak is up in the air, and remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to be a tossup,” Peterson said. “I really do think that because everybody loss a lot of key players from last year. With that, it’s always hard to know teams until you actually get a chance to see them play.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.