One point. That's all that came between the Bishop Ryan girls basketball team and a possible shot at a state title last season.
But the Lions have put that 46-45 loss to Linton-HMB in the first round of the state tournament behind them and are looking forward to the upcoming season. Ryan is ranked No. 1 in the Miss Hoopster Class B preseason power poll and is predicted to successfully defend both its District 12 and Region 6 titles.
"The polls are you friend and your enemy at the same time," sophomore forward Hannah Stewart said. "I like the pressure, but sometimes it can be a little scary. It's also good motivation for us. We want to prove that poll right."
Bishop Ryan freshman guard Sheyenne Schmidt passes the ball during a three-man weave drill last week at Bishop Ryan High School.
Ryan coach Julie Stewart, Hannah's mother, said the ranking is more the result of what the team did last year, which included a 26-2 record and a margin of victory of 30. The Lions can expect more of the same this season as they return all but one player from last year's roster.
"Our kids have gotten a lot better from last year," coach Stewart said. "They're a lot stronger and they've put some time in the weight room. Again, we have to work on some of our weaknesses. We have to gel as a group and there is a lot to learn. In order to be the best team we can be, they're going to have to work together."
Although the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, one improvement the Lions are looking to make is in the half-court game. Last season, Ryan was a fast-break team always looking to get the ball upcourt. When the uptempo offense was clicking, the Lions blew opponents out of the gym. This season, the Lions are focusing on establishing a half-court presence, knowing opponents will look to limit their transition opportunities.
"Last year, we did a lot of running the court, throwing the ball down there expecting someone to get it," Hanna Stewart said. "Teams are going to expect us to run this year so we're going to have to work on our sets and slowing it down a little more."
The Lions are guard-heavy with eight of the 12-player roster filling that position. But they do have two six-foot-one forwards in Stewart and sophomore Gabbie Bohl that they can feed the ball inside to if forced to play a slower tempo. Stewart averaged a double-double as a freshman with 18.7 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game. Bohl averaged 14.2 ppg and 8.9 rpg.
"They work really hard and they run the floor so well," Julie Stewart said. "They continue to get better. If teams are concerned with those two our guards are going to have to be able to hit some shots and play the game of basketball like they know how."
One guard in particular the Lions can turn to is junior Anika Rovig, who averaged 11.6 points and five assists per game last season. Rovig led Ryan with 49 3-pointers, 27 more than anyone else on the team.
Both Julie Stewart and Rovig believe the Lions' biggest strength heading into the season is their depth. Seven players averaged more than four points per game and six shot better than 50 percent from the field.
"Our whole bench could probably start," Rovig said. "We're all taught the same things. We all take pride in our defense. We all work hard and we're willing to play as many minutes as anybody else."
According to coach Stewart, of the eight teams who competed in last season's state tournament, only 12 starters were seniors. The Lions have just one senior - forward Quinn Harmon - but are a seasoned bunch.
"The chemistry is there," Rovig said. "We all work hard. It's fun to come to practice every day because all of these girls are so competitive. There's never a day where we're not competing."
Said Hannah Stewart: "Our biggest strength is probably our team unity. We know each other so well. We know what every person does. We know who's the cutter, who's the shooter, who's the rebounder."
The Lions open the season at 8 p.m. Friday against Thompson at the Minot Municipal Auditorium.
Region 6 roundup
Velva is the favorite out of District 11 with the return of seniors Emma Keller and Jaylen Newman. Keller averaged 10.7 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per contest last season. Newman tallied 14.3 ppg and 6.5 rpg for the Aggies. Rugby - last year's District 11 champions and region runners-up - returns a bulk of its roster, led by senior Aubrey Hovland (11.5 ppg). Our Redeemer's Christian School and Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood are expected to compete for the No. 2 spot in District 12.
Meet the Lions
Senior - Quinn Harmon
Juniors - Maddie Lipp, Macy Christianson, Sydney Landsiedel, Anika Rovig, Laurin Leidholt, Sydney Marmon
Sophomores - Maddie Wald, Kelly Kasper, Gabbie Bohl, Hannah Stewart
Freshman - Sheyenne Schmidt
December - 14, vs. Thompson at Minot Municipal Auditorium, 8 p.m.; 15, vs. New Town at Auditorium, 8 p.m.; 22, at Dickinson Trinity, 7:15 p.m.; 28, vs. Beulah, 4 p.m.
January - 3, at Westhope-Newburg, 5:45 p.m.; 8, at Rugby, 7:15 p.m.; 11, at Dunseith, 7:15 p.m.; 17, at Surrey, 7:15 p.m.; 19, at Shiloh Christian, 3 p.m.; 22, vs. Our Redeemer's, 5:45 p.m.; 25, at Berthold, 7:15 p.m.; 26, vs. Bottineau, 5 p.m.; 28, vs. Velva at Auditorium, 7:15 p.m.; 31, at Des Lacs-Burlington, 4 p.m.
February - 4, vs. Glenburn, 7:15 p.m.; 9, vs. Kenmare at Auditorium, 5:30 p.m.; 11, at Parshall, 7:15 p.m.; 12, vs. Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, 7:15 p.m.; 19, at Turtle Lake-Mercer-McClusky, 7:15 p.m.