HOLMGREN: It’s time for a Class A school to play Bishop Ryan

A week ago, the unthinkable nearly happened.

The Bishop Ryan girls basketball team’s second straight perfect season just about withered away. Class B’s unanimous No. 1-ranked team appeared vulnerable for the first time all year.

Instead, I had a front-row seat to history.

Trailing No. 3 Shiloh Christian by eight with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Lions handled themselves like champions. They made a furious 18-4 run to secure their second consecutive state title. During its state record-tying 57th straight victory, the machine that is Ryan appeared human for a short spell, but emerged as Class B’s undisputed champion.

Sure, the Lions are ultra-talented, but they’re hard-working and well-coached – not unlike the upper echelon of Class A. Which makes me wonder…

What if Ryan had played in the Class A state tournament this year? How would the Lions have fared?

They’d have a similar fate. No doubt, Ryan is among the top five teams in the state, regardless of class.

I’ve enjoyed – and sometimes endured – my fair share of high school girls basketball this winter. I took in a dozen of Ryan’s games, almost all of them routs. I covered 14 of Minot High’s 25 games this season – including the final seven. I witnessed the entire District 12, Region 6 and West Region tournaments, as well as both the Class A and B state tournaments. That’s around 70 games, but who’s counting?

I assure you, Class B’s top team two years running could very well handle its business against the best Class A has to offer.

But don’t take it from me.

“With the girls that they have, they could possibly win the state tournament. They probably could,” said former Minot coach Todd Magnuson, who resigned this month following the Majettes’ run to the Class A state championship game. “Because there’s nobody in the state that has two 6-foot-2 girls to match up with. They’ve got the biggest team I’ve seen in the state.”

Last offseason, Ryan had its way with some Class A opponents, rolling West Fargo – ranked second in the final state media poll – and Minot. The Lions narrowly beat then-two-time defending state champion Century, as well. At the top end of Class A and Class B, is there that much difference?

“The only way I’m able to judge is we do play some Class A teams in the summer,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “But summer ball is summer ball – there’s some other factors. You’ve got kids missing, you’re not as organized, so there’s variables in there that maybe don’t give you a true comparison.”

Of course that’s true. Which is why I’d love to see a … insert gasp here … regular-season contest between Ryan and a Class A opponent. There happens to be one right in town.

Why not?

Let’s face it, try as Stewart might, Ryan’s schedule gets back-loaded with some bottom-feeders. Those matchups are inevitable because those hard-luck teams are within driving distance. But it’s no fun for Ryan to win by 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 points. The Lions outscored opponents by an average of 50.63 points in the regular season, almost always with a 10-player rotation.

It’s no fun to lose by 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 points, either. That’s no knock on other Class B schools. They all play hard. But why not give them one more balanced game and give Ryan a crack at a Class A school?

“For sure, I’d like to,” said Ryan junior forward Hannah Stewart, a two-time all-state selection and two-time state tournament most valuable player. “In my opinion, the top Class B schools are just as good as the top Class A schools.

“As long as we’re playing our game and playing teams that are good, we’re fine.”

Julie Stewart schedules the best she can get. Ryan opened the season with a daunting task of Thompson, New Town, Lakota-Edmore, Shiloh Christian and Dickinson Trinity – all teams which spent time in the rankings.

Next year, the Lions are adding talented foes in North Star and Watford City. Whichever stingy opponents they can get their hands on. Ryan’s also going to scrimmage Class A champion Shanley. That’ll be a heck of a test. The Deacons’ state tournament MVP, sophomore guard Sarah Jacobson, could give the Lions fits.

But that won’t affect the win-loss column. Let’s see something real, against a Class A opponent.

“I would love it, our girls would love it,” Julie Stewart said. “It’s the factors around it. I understand it.”

Yeah, it might throw a wrench into the scheduling down the road. And Class A teams only have a few spare non-region games. But so be it. It’ll be worth the extra time and effort.

With all-state junior forwards Hannah Stewart and Gabbie Bohl returning, along with sound perimeter players in junior Maddie Wald and sophomore Sheyenne Schmidt, Ryan’s already the favorite for the 2015 Class B state title. Only Bottineau has won three straight titles before, and no one has done it in unblemished fashion.

Let’s see one less blowout and one more nail-biting finish.

In 20 years when Ryan still owns the consecutive wins record, we’ll regret not making it happen.


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