Fargo Shanley girls basketball coach Tim Jacobson calls it “a reloading year,” but his peers think the Deacons have plenty of ammunition. Shanley was picked by the East Region’s coaches as the team to beat in the region by a narrow margin over West Fargo in the Tribune’s preseason poll.
Shanley (21-4) lost a trio of all-region players to graduation from last year’s state runner-up, but the Deacons have a couple of returning starters in Rachel Weir and Jessica Anderson. Weir, a 5-11 senior guard-forward, averaged 10 points per game a year ago. Anderson, a 6-1 junior post, scored 6 points per game and hauled down 7 rebounds a night. Hannah Saville and Haley Greving also got varsity minutes last season.
“(Weir) is a solid all-around player,” Jacobson said. “(Saville) is hard-working and a good defender. (Anderson) is a solid defender and has good offensive skills.”
West Fargo has a large group of returnees from last year’s 13-9 club. Senior Hayley Miller and junior Lexi Lennon, both guards, are the highest-scoring of the bunch at 7.5 and 7.1 points per game, respectively. Four others — Hannah Schnepf, Erin Krogh, Christina Baltezore and Cassidy Thorson — chipped in 4 to 6 points a night, with Schnepf dishing out 74 assists.
But West Fargo’s calling card is on the other end of the court.
“Defense — we are an aggressive team,” coach Barb Metcalf said. “At times that means foul trouble, but a deeper bench will allow us to play more bodies.”
Fargo North made a surprising run to a state title last season. The Spartans (14-12) were three games under .500 during the regular season, when they placed seventh in the East Region standings, but put it all together come tournament time.
The Spartans return three core players — Kira Larson, Courtney Johnson and Emma Bergeron — from their championship squad. Larson, a 6-3 junior forward-center, averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game while earning all-region honors.
“Kira Larson is a great athlete and even better competitor,” North coach Derek Ouren said. “She gets to the hoop and the line at high rate (and) can run the floor really well for being 6-3.”
Ouren expects the Spartans to have some growing pains.
“We need to develop leadership,” he said. “Last year we had a couple great leaders that we need to try and find in this group.”
Fargo Davies, 4-18 last season, figures to be much better in its second year with everybody returning. The Eagles have an all-region post in senior Jasmine Moffett (13.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg), plus Brook Hildre (9.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and and Whitney Syverson (6.4 ppg).
Grand Forks Red River has a trio of returning starters, led by all-region guard Ellie Ripplinger, who scored 10.6 points per game.
“She’s a very good ball handler and can score,” coach Kent Ripplinger said. “She will be looked upon to continue to be a team leader.”
Ashley Knecht (8.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and JoDee Wheeler are also returning starters hoping to help the Roughriders improve on last year’s 8-13 mark.
“Our overall team speed has improved, and our ability to handle the basketball has gotten better,” coach Ripplinger said. “We have very good team chemistry and are learning to play well together.”
Miss Basketball winner Caitlin Farroh led Grand Forks Central to a 21-4 mark last season, but Michaela Johnson is the Knights’ only returning starter.
“(Johnson) is very versatile,” coach Brent Hintz said. “She can defend, rebound, and score inside, and she can also step outside and score from the perimeter.”
Wahpeton has something few other teams have as it tries to rebound from a 3-17 campaign — a pair of returning double-figure scorers. Tawny Irwin, an all-region pick, put up 15.7 points per game last year, while Allie Albrecht tossed in 12.7.
Devils Lake went 13-9 last season, but the Firebirds were hit hard by
graduation, losing 1,000-point scorers Hannah Elshaug and Steph Mertens. Sarah Schafer (10.0 ppg) is the sole returning starter.
“This team will need to find girls who can step up and play at the varsity level,” coach Justin Klein said. “There are some talented younger kids that just need some experience, and they could take some bumps early in the season but by the end of the season we feel we should be able to play with any of the top teams in the EDC.”
It’s a new era at Fargo South (17-8), where Jason Smedshammer takes over for long-time coach Craig Flaagan. Among the players, only Anna Diederich (5.4 ppg) has played varsity.
“We should have solid depth, with up to 10 players seeing varsity minutes,” Smedshammer said. “We can put a pretty quick team on the court so we will rely on playing tough pressure defense to be competitive in games. This group of players, even though they do not have much varsity experience, have worked extremely hard in the off-season to try and get to the level they need to be at. We should be a pretty scrappy team with a good work ethic.”
Valley City (8-12) will be trying to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2005.