Trae Murray and Sydney Andersen may be the headliners, but the Killdeer Cowboys have plenty of options.
Killdeer carries a 10-game winning streak into the North Dakota Class B state girls basketball tournament, which opens on Thursday at the Minot State Dome. The Cowboys (20-4) won the Region 7 title and earned their first state tournament appearance since 2005, and they’ve done it by embracing a team approach.
“We have a team that buys into the idea that every single one of the 11 girls on the roster are an important piece of the puzzle,” Cowboys coach Ashlee Viveros said.
Murray and Andersen (the Region 7 Senior Athlete of the Year) each average 14-plus points per game. But the Cowboys don’t lean too heavily on any one or two players.
“Sydney and Trae are strong players but their teammates are also capable of stepping up,” Viveros said. “If Trae and Syndey become the focus, we have other players that can step up. If Trae is getting doubled, she’s confident kicking it out to Shawnee (Hansen) or Bridgette (Reiss). They trust in each other.”
Viveros says her team is at its best when they spread the wealth.
“We can count on Sydney and Trae to get us 10 points every game but when we’re playing our best basketball, it’s when we have 12, 11, 10, eight, six,” she said.
Andersen, a 5-foot-11 senior, averages a double-double for the Cowboys with 14.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, to go along with 4 assists and 3.4 steals. Murray contributes 14.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Both have signed to play for Bismarck State College in the fall.
Hansen, a 5-8 junior, averages 6.8 points per game. Four different players scored in double figures for Killdeer during the Region 7 tournament – Murray, Anderson, Hansen and Reiss.
Killdeer’s run at a state tournament berth was almost derailed early on – the Cowboys rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit and a double-digit margin in the fourth quarter for a 49-48 win over Dickinson Trinity in the quarterfinals.
Andersen finished with 20 points and Murray nine, and Killdeer hit some clutch free throws late to squeak by the Titans, 49-48.
“The biggest challenge was the first game,” Viveros said. “Trinity put together a great game and we were not doing a great job on them.
“It was like this was going to be the end if we didn’t do something. Sydney was not ready to let the season be over.”
Once the Cowboys got through the opener, they posted wins over Hettinger-Scranton (61-53) and Bowman County (67-59) to claim the region title.
Andersen finished with 17 points, Murray 14, Reiss 13 and Melayna Four Bears eight in the semifinal victory. Murray had 22 points, Hansen 14, Reiss 11 and Andersen nine in the championship contest.
“They fought so hard to get through that first game, they had all the trust in each other after that,” Viveros said.
Killdeer will square off with Region 6 champion Rugby (22-2) at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday. The Panthers have won 15 straight games since a Dec. 28 loss to Shiloh Christian. Killdeer has won 10 in a row since a Jan. 20 loss to Grant County.
Viveros sees a lot of similarities between the teams.
“Watching film, they look like us,” she said. “They have five really athletic girls. “(Karsyn Hager) is their best player, they have a nice strong post player in (Madison) Uhlenkamp and they like to run the floor like we do. They play a four-out offense like we do, they’re black and orange, too. It’s going to be a fun matchup.”
While preparing for the third-seeded Panthers, the Cowboys are looking to improve their game as well heading into the state tournament.
"We’re not focusing completely on Rugby. There are things we need to do better,” Viveros said. “Our main focus the whole season has been getting stops on defense. Our goal is to hold teams under 40 points. We were on a pretty good run during the middle of the season, but we need to fine-tune things a little bit – not getting beat in transition, not allowing second chances, not let them penetrate the middle.”
Killdeer is making its second state tournament appearance – the Cowboys finished third in 2005, which was the year before the senior class entered kindergarten.
“We’re trying to keep the girls focused,” Viveros said. “This is an unbelievable experience – we want them to enjoy it. There are so many girls that don’t get to experience a state tournament.
“We want them to enjoy it and appreciate everything they’ve worked for. But at game time when we lace them up, we want them to be just as focused as they were for the regional tournament.”