When the season started, St. Mary's was in the unique position of having to replace quality players, but also having a bunch of good ones coming back.
After mixed early results, the Saints are beginning to hit their stride.
A big reason is the play of junior Maria Mann. The 6-foot junior has nearly tripled her scoring output and more than doubled her rebounding numbers from her sophomore season.
Currently accounting for 13.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, Mann is one of only two players in the West Region averaging a double-double. Century star Lauren Ware (16.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg) is the other.
"I'm just trying to help our team any way I can," Mann said. "We're playing well as a team. That's what matters most."
The Saints have won three games in a row and are challenging for a top four spot in the West Region. Tuesday night's 61-54 win over Jamestown was significant in two ways. The Saints and Blue Jays split their two games, but St. Mary's holds the tiebreaker, if it comes to that, due to their seven-point victory and plus-one advantage over Jamestown, which won by six on its home court earlier in the season.
"That seven-point margin was kind of our magic number," Mann said.
Mann and fellow juniors Hallie Schweitzer and Abby Kopp have all made major leaps statistically.
Schweitzer's scoring has spiked from 2.3 points last year to 9.8 this winter. She also ranks second in the conference in blocks per game (1.7).
Kopp, the Saints' primary ball handler, has raised her average from 2.5 to 9.4. She also ranks in the top 10 in assists (2.8).
Mann said banging against Schweitzer every day has been beneficial for both 6-footers.
"Going against each other in practice makes us both better," she said. "We work a lot on post ups and trying to improve every day."
The Saints (6-5 West Region, 6-6 overall) face a stiff test on Saturday at the Bismarck Event Center against No. 5-ranked Legacy. The two teams met on the same neutral floor in December with the Sabers (9-2) earning a decisive 53-29 victory.
The Saints are hoping Tuesday's win over 7-5 Jamestown is proof they can beat the top teams in the West.
"Hopefully this gives us confidence to not be afraid of the big teams," she said. "Just knowing that if we come out strong we can play with anybody."