The St. Mary's girls basketball team opened up a season of high expectations on a high note Tuesday night.
The veteran Saints trailed early, but seized control and rolled to a 71-31 West Region victory over the Minot Majettes at the St. Mary's gymnasium. St. Mary's returns six core players from a 2016-17 team that went 13-11, giving coach Shannon Copas and the Saints faithful reason to be optimistic.
"We were young last year, but we improved as the season progressed. We think we're a better team this year," said Copas, whose returnees include seniors Kaitlyn Wanner (12.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17), Tonya Dvorak (11.5 points and six rebounds) and Sydney Smith (9.5 points), and junior Taylor Gerving (13.5 points and 5.1 rebounds). "We have several starters back and we think we have a solid bench. We're looking for good things to happen this year."
The Saints made good things happen throughout Tuesday night's season opener. They used runs of 19-0 and 13-0 to build a commanding 37-13 first-half lead. After Minot went ahead 3-2 on an Allie Nelson free throw, St. Mary's reeled off the next 19 points and led 21-3 with 8:54 remaining in the first half. Smith scored eight of her game-high 16 points in the run.
A 5-0 spurt by the Majettes trimmed St. Mary's lead to 14, 22-8, but Smith and Gerving netted four points apiece in a 13-0 run that made it 35-8 with 2:25 remaining.
Although St. Mary's put 37 points on the scoreboard in the opening 18 minutes, Copas said the offense was inconsistent at times. However, the defense was stellar from the start.
"We did a nice job putting lots of pressure on (the Majettes)," he said. "I thought we defended very well ... we contested shots."
Dvorak contested quite a few shots in the first half, blocking four. She finished with five blocks.
Eight Saints scored in the first half, with Smith leading the way with 12. In all, 11 St. Mary's players tallied.
"We're excited about our depth this year," Copas said. "We have a lot of confidence in our bench. Those players are going to make lots of contributions."
One St. Mary's reserve, 5-foot-11 sophomore Maria Mann, scored all 11 of her points in the second half. Mann played on the junior varsity last season.
"Maria is a young player who we feel is really going to help us," Copas said. "She played in the JV game tonight, so she could only play a half in the varsity game. And it was a very solid half.
"Maria gives us another big, along with Tonya Dvorak (6-1), Kaitlyn Wanner (6-0) and Hallie Schweitzer (5-11)," the St. Mary's coach continued. "Those are four girls who play well in the paint, as well as run the floor."
Wanner collected 10 rebounds for the Saints, who outboarded the Majettes 35-18.
Nelson led Minot with 10 points.
St. Mary's will host Bismarck High on Friday night.