This year’s race for the North Dakota Class A Girls basketball title includes a long list of contenders and some outstanding players. Century has the most talent returning, but Davies and Legacy have a couple of great 1-2 punches. Check out my preseason rankings and the top ten players to watch!
Girls Class A
Last season, the Patriots were bit by the injury bug forcing the state’s best player Lauren Ware to miss the entire season. Century was still able to finish 21-4 before being knocked out by Devils Lake at the state tournament. But, that illustrates the depth that Century typically has and this year will be no exception and it’s the reason I see them as the favorites.
Head Coach Ron Metz had this to say about his team’s depth. “With all the uncertainty and the possibility of having players out for certain amounts of time this season this should be a benefit for us as they all have spent a lot of time playing within our base systems. This will also allow us to make adjustments in our offensive and defensive systems early in the season that will fit our current talent and allow us extra time to fine-tune these adjustments.”
The Patriots return a trio of players that averaged double figures in scoring: Seniors Julia Fitterer (13.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG), Ashton Kinnebrew (11.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2 SPG) and sophomore Logan Nissley (13.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG). Each one of those players is 5’10” and that height helps them on both offense and defense. Fitterer has already signed to play hoops at the University of Mary. Her 3-point shooting is another weapon as she drilled 66 Treys in her junior season. Nissley really broke onto the scene last year as a freshman and proved she’s an incredible talent. This Century team will definitely have a great shot at winning a 3rd state title in four years.
Much like the Century team I ranked at #1, this Davies squad has quite a bit of depth and some great talent returning from the 2019-20 season.
Tonah Safranski takes over for Tim Jacobson who resigned in July. It’ll be Safranski’s second stint as head coach after guiding the program from 2011-2017. She inherits a squad that finished 18-8 last year and made it to the state semifinal round. 5’11” senior Ryleigh Wacha (14.6 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 93 Ast) is coming off an all-state selection year. Wacha, a UMary commit, is an all-around talent the way she can score, rebound and pass. She’s so good at driving the lane and attacking thanks to her confidence, size and quickness.
Fellow senior and UMD commit Taylor Fey (14.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG) is another outstanding scoring threat that teams have to account for when facing the Eagles. Fey excels in the post thanks to her footwork and ability to hit jumpers from the elbow.
Senior Brooklynn Koenig and junior Ava Wild also logged a lot of minutes last season and give the team additional scoring options. Coach Safranski is excited about this year’s squad, “We are excited to be back on the court playing and will play pressure defense and get up and down the floor. We are a deep team and can put out many different looks to our line ups.”
The Legacy Sabers had an incredible season last year winning 22 games and claiming the west region title, but it ended quickly at the state tournament when Shanley upset the WDA’s top seed in the quarterfinal round.
Ms. Basketball finalist Alexis Dressler is a key departure, but reigning WDA Coach of the Year Jim Petrik does return a couple of All WDA selections in seniors Jaiden Baker (11.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 50 STLs) and Arianna Berryhill (12.4 PPG, 92 Ast, 36 Treys). Baker is a jolt of electricity on offense and has a knack for frustrating opposing players when she’s on the defensive end. I’d characterize Berryhill’s play as smooth. The NDSCS commit has great vision on the floor, is an outstanding ball-handler and can score with the best in the state. Senior Hannah Stymeist (4.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG) is another key returner. The Sabers 9th grade and JV programs were really strong last year, as well.
So, I think the depth of this squad will be a strength too. Keep in mind, Legacy went 3-0 vs Century last season. We’ll see if the Sabers continue to have the edge in that budding rivalry.
4. West Fargo
A lot of the coaches I’ve spoken to or messaged with seem to think the Packers are poised for a big season. I agree. The Packers have a good mix of senior leaders and two of the best sophomores in the state in 5’11” Chloe Pfau (9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 91 Ast) and 6’1” Miriley Simon (10.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 29 BLKs). Brynn Giesen (7.4 PPG, 35 Treys) and Ashlyn Diemert (8.9 PPG, 4.1 RPG) head up that senior class and both put up solid numbers last season.
Mike Benson enters his 4th season hoping to take advantage of the length his team has by making things difficult in the half-court for opposing offenses. The Packers averaged 66.3 PPG last season, which ranked 6th in Class A. The challenge for this year’s group is to improve on the defensive end where they ranked 13th in the state allowing just over 57 points per contest. The Packers have missed the state tournament four consecutive years, but I believe that streak will come to an end.
The Deacons 2019-20 season ended in heartbreak and oddly enough it wasn’t due to a loss. Despite entering the state tournament as the 4th seed from the east, the Deacons reached the championship game only to have the tournament suspended (eventually canceled) hours after a semifinal round victory over Mandan. The abrupt finish was a gut punch to both Devils Lake and Shanley, especially for the seniors.
Now, a new-look Deacons team will try to fight their way back to that title game. For the first time since 2014, the Deacons roster won’t have Hadley Huber and Reile Payne who finished up their stellar careers last season. Payne was named Miss Basketball after leading the EDC in scoring, rebounding and steals. This year’s squad will rely on its returning post players at the start of the season. 6’2” senior Moriku Hakim, a UMary commit (13.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 36 BLKs) and 6’3” junior Emily Sremja (10 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 24 BLKs) are two of the best interior players in the state.
The Deacons are also expecting senior point guard Kate Busek to be at full strength after an ACL injury kept her off the floor during her junior season. Seniors Lydia Mattern (7 PPG, 56 STLs) and Liz Dabbert (4 PPG) will also be looked at to lead this group on and off the floor. They might be replacing some outstanding talents, but I expect the Deacons to be competitive again this winter.
Bubble Teams: Devils Lake, Bismarck, Red River
Buzzer Beater Thoughts
Devils Lake was set to play in its 2nd consecutive state championship game last year before the tournament was called due to COVID-19. The Firebirds will have to replace Miss Basketball finalist Jes Mertens along with fellow seniors Abby Johnson and Maya Barendt. Reigning state Coach of the Year Justin Klein will look to his large senior class to lead the way in 2020-21. All-EDC selections Jaylin Martinson (12 PPG, 5 RPG) and Ramsey Brown (11 PPG, 4 RPG, 53 STLs) will lead a team that is always fundamentally sound.
Bismarck High Head Coach Bill Shetler enters the 2020-21 season with plenty of confidence in his team, “We return a great deal of our production from last year. We are a very small team and will rely on maximum effort and pace to be successful.” Senior Jilee Golus averaged 16 points per game last season. She’s a solid defender and one of the top 3-point shooters in the state.
Red River returns a trio of starters from last year led by all-EDC selection Alex Page (9.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG). Head Coach Kent Ripplinger knows that rebounding will be key for this group after the departure of All-EDC selection Shelby Frank.
Century and Davies are the front-runners, but I’m expecting this season to be full of surprises. Never has there been a more important season to have depth.
Top 10 Players to Watch
- Arianna Berryhill, Sr. Legacy: 12.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 92 Ast
- Jadyn Feist, Sr. Sheyenne: 13.6 PPG, 10 RPG, 31 STL
- Julia Fitterer, Sr. Century: 13.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 66 Treys
- Jilee Golus, Sr. Bismarck: 15 PPG, 50 STL, 51 Treys
- Moriku Hakim, Sr. Shanley: 13.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 36 BLK
- Grace Hegerle, Sr. Jamestown: 17.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 35 STL
- Jailyn Martinson, Sr. Devils Lake: 12 PPG, 5 RPG, 43 STL
- Logan Nissley, So. Century: 13.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 45 BLK
- Ryleigh Wacha, Sr. Davies: 14.6 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 93 Ast
- Adie Wagner, Jr. Fargo South: 20 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 68 Treys