The West Fargo Sheyenne girls basketball team has come a long way since its first varsity season in 2014.
The Mustangs didn’t win a single game that year, finishing their inaugural season at 0-22.
Five seasons later, with back-to-back state tournament appearances in their pockets, the Mustangs have sustained a level of success that was unimaginable in the program’s early years.
“We feel like there's a different mentality now, that we have higher expectations for ourselves than what most people have for us,” Mustangs head coach Brent Hintz said. “And that’s what we want, we want the highest expectations for us to be from us.”
Hintz, who enters his sixth year as the head of Sheyenne’s varsity team, said he’s seen “immense improvement” in the program.
The two straight state tournament showings provided huge confidence boosters to the team, and Hintz said it’s now up to the 2019-20 class to carry the legacy.
“You go to back-to-back state tournaments at our level, it puts you in a different category as far as a program,” Hintz said. “And now it’s our job and our kids’ job to sustain that level of success and keep building on it.”
The girls on Sheyenne’s roster have some roles to fill this year, and players to replace. The Mustangs graduated a handful of key players, including some of whom were on the varsity roster for four years, and in one kid’s case, five.
Point guard Maggie Manson, who’s currently playing Division I basketball for the University of North Dakota, is gone. Manson, the program’s leading scorer, was a North Dakota Miss Basketball finalist and two-time All-State first-team player.
The Mustangs will also be without their second-leading scorer, All-Conference player Yasmina Dokara. Hintz said Dokara will be missed on both ends of the floor.
Shelby Weber, who was on the varsity squad as a freshman, is also gone. Hintz said she’s the best defensive player he’s ever seen on the perimeter, and was the key to their defense the last three years.
“It's kind of a new era a little bit for our program, just because we did graduate five seniors last year that were with us since from the beginning, pretty much,” Hintz said. “But we're really excited about the kids that we have this year and their capability of being able to find their own way and do it their way and put their own stamp on the program.”
The new era
Having graduated a couple scoring threats, Hintz is excited to see what this group of kids can do.
“I think once they find their style and and find what works for them — I’m just really excited to see what they can accomplish this year, because they are definitely a group of kids that really buy into the team aspect,” he said.
Brittani Huseth, who added 49 steals and 50 assists last year, will fill the point guard position this season. The 5-foot-9 senior has two years of varsity experience under her belt, and Hintz is expecting her to help the Mustangs in a lot of ways.
“She’s a great defensive player, she handles the ball well, she just plays so hard that she kind of leads by example when it comes to playing with maximum effort,” Hintz said of Huseth.
The Mustangs return only one starter from last year, 5-foot-9 Paige Johnson, who was the lone non-senior in the starting lineup last season. Johnson averaged over seven points per game last year, and Hintz said Johnson does a lot of things well: “She can score, she defends, she can rebound.”
Hintz expects Joely Goodiron, a 5-foot-7 senior who has racked up a lot of minutes for the Mustangs over the last two years, to step in and provide scoring for the Mustangs. A perimeter player, Hintz said Goodiron can handle the ball well.
Jadyn Feist, who came on during the second half of the season last year, was instrumental in getting the Mustangs back to the state tournament, Hintz said. Hintz has high hopes for Feist, a post player who he said can score and rebound.
“Her strength allows her to be a really good defender in the lane,” Hintz. “And she gives us something that we didn't always have in the past, which was a really strong post presence on both sides of the floor.”
Around the time the Mustangs coaching staff was planning to play Feist on varsity last year, she sustained a minor knee injury and had to sit out five games. Now healthy, Hintz is ready for Feist to have another breakout season.
“She stepped right in where she left off, she just hit the ground running and she just gave us a different dynamic,” Hintz said. “Someone who was a threat in the lane that could score, rebound and provide things at that position. You know, (someone) good teams really need to have.”
The inaugural year
Like every team at Sheyenne that had varsity programs the year the girls basketball team started, the Mustangs were very young. With an eighth-grader and three freshmen in the starting lineup, the Mustangs were playing 14-year-olds against 18-year-olds.
Going 0-22 that first season, Hintz said the team’s youth showed at times with the inexperience and strength. There were some scores that got out of hand toward the beginning of the season, Hintz said, but improvement showed, as the Mustangs lost a double-overtime game and had a close East Region play-in game.
And the Mustangs continued to improve. The following season, Sheyenne won eight games. The Mustangs went 11-14 the next year, and have qualified for state the last two years — building on a 2017-18 sixth-place finish, earning fourth last year.
Sheyenne defeated Mandan 75-61 in the opening round of state last year, and advanced to the semifinals for the first time. Hintz said it was gratifying to see his players compete on that stage.
“To be able to win that game and get into the state semifinals with a group of kids that really were there pretty much from the beginning; they were the kids who helped build a legacy for the program and went through the tough times together and came out through the other end,” Hintz said.
“Seeing all their hard work pay off and getting to that state semifinal game, it was all worth it to see the excitement in their faces,” he added.
Throughout Hintz’s seven years total with the Mustangs, he and his coaching staff have decided to exercise patience and work the process. Hintz wanted to establish a culture in the brand-new program.
The girls on the Mustangs basketball team have forged their own traditions. Hintz said his players want to leave their marks, and he’s excited to see what they can do.
“They definitely put ‘we’ before ‘me.’ They just want to win, they just want to do well. They’re not really concerned about who gets the credit,” Hintz said. “They're just concerned about playing together and being successful.”
Sheyenne opens its season Friday, Dec. 6, with an away game against the Mandan Braves, who they last saw in the state quarterfinals.