JONES: Patience paying off for Ryan GBB

At the beginning of the season, Bishop Ryan girls basketball coach Julie Stewart stressed the importance of being patient with this year’s squad.

With the departures of the Hannah Stewart, Madison Wald and Gabbie Bohl, the Lions entered their 2015-16 season seemingly void of veteran experience and leadership. And on the back of three consecutive state titles, Ryan began its bid for a fourth amid a host of unknowns.

Those unknowns were apparent during Ryan’s early-season losses to Thompson and Rugby, both of which are still ranked among the top two in this week’s state media poll. Tack on three additional losses – with Ryan still not far removed from a streak of 84 consecutive wins against Class B opposition – this season didn’t seem to be a promising one for the Lions.

Boy, were those early-season assumptions ever wrong.

After receiving votes in the state media poll for the first time in more than seven weeks, the Lions have won nine of their last 10 games dating back to their 56-36 loss to No. 4-ranked North Star on Dec. 30 at the MSU Dome.

They’ve also steamrolled through District 12, winning the regular-season title with a 7-0 mark – including an emphatic 22-point win over cross-town rival Our Redeemer’s that clinched the district crown for Ryan.

This sports writer wouldn’t have predicted that to start the season.

So, how did the Lions suddenly emerge as a contender for their fifth consecutive Region 6 title?

There are several answers to that question.

First, experience comes with time.

The Lions’ biggest problem at the start of the season was inexperience. Of all the weaknesses or concerns a team could have, that’s the one most easily fixed. Senior Sheyenne Schmidt, junior Morgan Kroeger, sophmore McKinlee Harmon and others had never really played together at the varsity level prior to this season, and initial growing pains were to be expected.

And those early-season losses proved to be lessons in disguise for the Lions.

“Our goals all year have been based on improvement and learning,” Julie Stewart said. “Hopefully that means we’ll be playing our best basketball at tournament time.”

Secondly, Schmidt has simply elevated her game to a new level. One thing the Lions were lacking going into the season was a primary scorer, and Schmidt has filled that role rather well.

In the Jan. 28 win over ORCS, the Ryan senior scored 33 points, including 19 in the first half.

But Schmidt has done far more than just score for the Lions. Through the first 11 games of the season, she was averaging 4.8 steals, 4.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Third, Julie Stewart, like any good coach, gets the most out of her team. She knows which buttons to push at the exact moment. Good coaching counts for a lot in sports, especially basketball.

Unlike years past, however, the Lions may be playing the role of underdog.

No. 2-ranked Rugby (18-0) appears to be the team to beat heading into the Region 6 tournament later this month. The Panthers handed Ryan 49-39 loss on Dec. 10 in the Lions’ third game of the season.

But considering the Lions’ recent momentum, a Ryan-Rugby rematch is very much on the cards, and if it happens, it’ll be a much more competitive game.

The problem is, we all have to be patient for the postseason to arrive.

This is the opinion of Mark Jones, a Minot Daily staff writer. Mark covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @hoopsfan27_MDN.