College basketball: Minnesota West women are hitting on all cylinders
BY AARON HAGEN
WORTHINGTON -- It took awhile for the Minnesota West women's basketball team to figure out how to play together this year.
But now, with the early-season stumbles in the rearview mirror, the Lady Jays are playing more in sync. And the results have followed on the court.
On Wednesday, West dispatched Fergus Falls 72-45 in the year's first Southern Division game. It was the sixth consecutive victory.
"It's just been really, really fun." MW's Emily Schroer said. "We started practicing a lot harder and understanding that we need to win. And we all want to win."
The difference, according to Schroer, has been the ability of the young squad to learn to play together.
"I think we're learning to play as a team a lot more," Schroer said. "We're understanding how each other cuts and screens, which helps us play as a team more. And we get along pretty good off the court, so that helps."
It wasn't that long ago that West owned a 3-6 record with some disappointing losses.
"We bought into the concept of some things that we've been trying to do," MW head coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka said. "We revamped some things offensively and I think that's me as a coach figuring out that what I was trying to do at the first part of the season wasn't a good fit for us. I think the biggest thing right now is we're buying into the team concept."
And while the early-season games were important in their own right, Wednesday's division victory is the biggest one yet.
"When we were 2-5 we said when it comes right down to it, these games don't matter," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "What matters now is if we get better and keep working on stuff. We said we have to stay the course and then when we're hitting January, that's when we have to be playing well. Everybody goes in 0-0. We really want to be playing our best basketball as we get into this part of the season. I think we actually are right now."
The Spartans gave West fits early on and led 16-14 after the first quarter. But West started the second quarter with a 14-2 spurt and ended with a 12-1 run, and led 40-26 at halftime.
Fergus Falls made four 3-pointers in the third quarter and was within 10 heading into the final 10 minutes.
But the West defense clamped down in the fourth.
"I thought we did some good things defensively," Hayenga-Hostikka said. "There were some things we saw that we thought we could take away from them. We got lost a couple times, so we have to get better at that. But overall I thought we executed what we worked on pretty well."
The Spartans made one field goal in the quarter, and that didn't come until there was 1:27 remaining. The Lady Jays, meanwhile, were able to turn steals into transition baskets and outscored FF 19-2.
"We really had poise in that fourth quarter. We didn't want them to come back into the game or have any hope," Schroer said. "We started shading them to their off hand, so that helps a lot, especially when people can't go to their off hand. Just reading passes, we've been doing that a lot lately in the last few games."
Avery Van Roekel scored 17 points to go with 10 rebounds and four steals for West, while Emily Shaffer scored 14 points and had nine rebounds. Schroer scored 13 points and collected seven boards, while M'Kayla Mike dished out a team-best six assists.
Sydney Hovlend scored a game-high 20 points for the Spartans.
West (9-6, 1-0) hosts Anoka-Ramsey on Saturday. The Golden Rams are ranked No. 7 nationally.
"I think it will give us momentum going into Saturday, especially how we played tonight," Schroer said. "I think we need to work even harder on Saturday."Fergus Falls 16 26 43 45Lady Jays 14 40 53 72FERGUS FALLS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Winfrey 1-1-1-6, Mortenson 1-1-0-5, Hovlend 4-4-0-20, Algarate 0-0-1-1, Schleicher 0-4-0-8, Dreger 0-2-1-5. Totals 6-12-3-45.LADY JAYS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Mike 1-1-0-5, Ramsey 0-4-0-8, Schroer 2-3-1-13, Shaffer 0-7-0-14, Van Roekel 0-8-1-17, Unke 1-0-3-6, Pourier 0-3-1-7, Rosenberg 0-0-2-2. Totals 4-26-8-72.