Defending District 9 and Region 5 girls basketball champion Grant County hit a few bumps in the road during the 2017-18 regular season.
The biggest was an injury to all-state player Taylor Roehl, a senior who injured an ankle and missed seven games from Dec. 12 through Jan. 18. The Coyotes lost four of those seven games.
The good news is Roehl is now healthy and the Coyotes are on a roll heading into the postseason, which begins today with the District 9 tournament at Shiloh Christian. Grant County, which returned four starters from last year’s fourth-place state tournament team, is the No. 2 seed behind No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Shiloh Christian.
The Coyotes are 15-4 and riding a seven-game winning streak.
“You’re going to have some ups and downs in the regular season, but what you want to do is play your best basketball at this time of the year, and I think that’s what we’re doing,” said Grant County coach Nicole Bentz. “We had a good (regular season). We won 15 games and that’s similar to what we did last year. We had some high expectations coming into the year because of what we had coming back. There were some things we had to work on and some things we had to overcome, but we’re feeling good heading into districts.”
Coach Bentz said Roehl’s injury was a blessing in disguise of sorts.
“When a team is without one of its best players, it gives the other girls opportunities to step up and take on more responsibility than they're used to,” she said. “We saw that while Taylor was out. We saw other girls step up in scoring, rebounding, defense and leadership. We had some struggles, but I think we’re a better team now because of what we had to deal with.”
The Coyotes have a balanced offensive attack, with three players averaging double-figure points – Alexis Bentz 15.4, Coral Alt 12.8 and Roehl 12.4. Isabelle Boyer averages 8.2 points per game. Grant County's other starter, Camryn Alt, is also a proven scorer.
“We’ve had tremendous balance throughout the year from our starters, and we’ve gotten some pretty good production from our bench,” coach Bentz said. “A balanced attack puts a lot of pressure on the other team. We have confidence in every girl we put on the floor.”
Alexis Bentz, a senior, leads the Coyotes in four other categories – rebounding (10.8 per game), assists (5.2), steals (4.4) and blocked shots (2.9).
Grant County’s only loss to a district or region opponent this season was a big one – 85-62 to Shiloh Christian on Jan. 11. With Roehl sidelined, the Skyhawks jumped all over the Coyotes, scoring 36 points in the first quarter and 54 in the first half. The first quarter ended 36-15 after Shiloh netted seven of its nine 3-pointers. Five different Skyhawks scored from beyond the arc.
“They just shot the lights out in the first quarter and we couldn’t recover. Everybody on their team shot the ball well,” coach Bentz said. “But take away that first quarter and it was a pretty even game. It was a tough loss, but we learned from it and moved on. Shiloh is a great team. They’re No. 1 in the state for a reason, but we think we’re a much better team than we were that night.”
Two opening round games are on tap tonight – No. 4-seeded Flasher takes on No. 5 New Salem-Almont at 6 p.m., and No. 3 Standing Rock and No. 6 Solen will meet at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, Shiloh, led by seniors Amber Stevahn, Brittan Grubb and Paige Murray, will play the winner of the Flasher vs. New Salem-Almont game at 6 p.m., and Grant County will face the Standing Rock vs. Solen winner at 7:30 p.m.
The championship and Region 5 qualifier games will be played on Monday.
The District 10 tournament got underway Thursday night in Underwood. Underwood is the No. 1 seed.
The top four placers in Districts 9 and 10 will play in the Region 5 tournament, Feb. 19, 20 and 22 at the Mandan High School gym.