Mustangs girls basketball gets past Deacons to qualify for first ever state tournament
The West Fargo Sheyenne girls basketball team had never been to the Class A state tournament before and they would have to go through Fargo Shanley, the previous five-time East Region champion, to get there this season.
Four years ago, the Mustangs didn't win a game in their first varsity season. As head coach, Brent Hintz told his young team then that if they stuck with him and the program, they would be the first team to make the state tournament in the program's history.
The No. 5-seeded Mustangs punched their ticket to the program's first ever state tournament with a 54-53 win over No. 2-seeded Shanley on Saturday, March 3, at Scheels Center at Sanford Health Athletic Complex in an East Region tournament state-qualifying game.
The Mustangs will be the No. 4 seed out of the East Region and will play West Region No. 1 seed Bismarck Century in the Class A state tournament quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at the Fargodome.
"You have to pay a price for success. You have to pay a price to be great," Hintz said. "We talked about that first year that we needed to pay that price. We took a lot of beatings that first year and remembered every one of them, but we knew it would make us tougher and better."
Maggie Manson scored 21 points and Yasmina Dokara added 12 as the Mustangs lost at No. 4-seeded Devils Lake 69-56 in the East Region quarterfinals Tuesday, Feb. 27. Then the Mustangs scored 14 unanswered points to start their win over crosstown rival No. 8 seed West Fargo 59-39 in East Region consolation play on Friday, March 2, to set up the matchup with Shanley.
Kierra Freih scored Sheyenne's first six points including a 3-point play to keep the Mustangs in the game early. After Shanley took a 10-point lead, the Mustangs responded with an 18-3 run that ended in the second half in which Dokara scored nine of her 15 points to take a five-point lead.
A 12-3 run gave the Deacons back the lead until Manson, who finished with 15 points, hit a 3-pointer with 1:35 to go. After Shanley's Hadley Huber replied right back with a 3-pointer, the Mustangs held the Deacons scoreless for the rest of the game. That included the final possession of the game after Shanley called a timeout, set up a play and put up a shot for the lead. The shot didn't fall, and the Deacons fell short of the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
"They're a great team," Freih said, "but we knew that if we went out there, did our job and worked 10 times harder than them, we would be just fine."
The Mustangs went 0-22 four years ago with a bunch of underclassmen in their first varsity season. After all that work and development over the years, Hintz told his players it would all be worth it.
Hintz voice cracks as he promises all of this is true, just like he promised his players four years ago that the pain of loss would be worthwhile.
"I'm so happy for my team," Manson said. "We just played so hard tonight. I'm so proud."
Manson said she and the Mustangs weren't intimidated going against Shanley. She had had a feeling there was another week left in the season.
"Not next year, we've got to do this today," Manson said. "We've built this program from the ground up."
Freih, who finished with a game-high 18 points, said "it was not a nice feeling" losing in a state-qualifying game last season as the Mustangs' season ended. In those past seasons with all those losses, Freih said the Mustangs were constantly practicing and getting ready for this moment.
"We want to go in there and make a statement and show the whole state who we are," Freih said. "We're not that 0-22 team you heard of four years ago. We're there to make a statement."
All-Eastern Dakota Conference team
Mattea Vetsch and Jes Mertens, Devils Lake; Raegan Linster, Carly Kottsick and Alyssa Paper, Fargo Davies; Elise Bakke, Fargo North; Maggie Steffen, Grand Forks Red River; Hadley Huber, Reile Payne and Caira Berg, Fargo Shanley; Taryn Dieterle, Valley City; Jordyn Kahler, Wahpeton; McKenna Becher, West Fargo; Maggie Manson and Kierra Freih, West Fargo Sheyenne.
East Region coach of the year: Justin Klein, Devils Lake
East Region senior athlete of the year: Raegan Linster, Fargo Davies