Girls basketball: Mahnomen-Waubun brings experience to the table
The Mahnomen-Waubun girls basketball team has experience up and down the roster with the hope of taking a step forward in a competitive Section 8A and Pine to Prairie Conference.
WAUBUN – Teams that make it out of Section 8A are always battle-tested. The Mahnomen-Waubun girls basketball team believes it could be right in the thick of it.
The Thunderbirds bring back an experienced group led by the back-to-back Pine to Prairie Conference Most Valuable Player, Kendra Syverson. Head coach Zack Qual is leaning on his seniors to take Mahnomen-Waubun a step forward.
"We return a great senior class," Qual said. "Alaina Bevins is a three-year captain for us. We've got Nevaeh Williams, who is a great post for us and finishes around the basket well. Of course, we have Kendra Syverson. When you have that coming back, it's always a plus."
The Thunderbirds graduated several impactful players, which means newcomers will have to step up. Qual sees his team as having an advantage in that area because his underclassmen have been with the program since middle school.
"I've got such a great group, which makes this fun," Qual said. "What I love about this group is that we're unique with our mix of old and young. Even the young ones, like our sophomores who will make a varsity impact, have been around since they were in seventh grade. We're young, but we've been around and have some experience. Not everybody gets to say that. I think it could be a really good group."
Qual feels he's ahead of the game because of his team's varsity experience. It made the first two weeks of practice more about fine-tuning instead of installation.
"We haven't had to work on our offense nearly as much as we did when I took over," Qual said. "I feel like I'm doing less coaching and more managing, which is great because I believe that great teams lead themselves. I think this group could be really special. It might take some time to figure out the cohesion in replacing the girls that left from last year. But, come January and February, we could be playing our best basketball, which is when you want to be playing it."
Last year, Mahnomen-Waubun finished with a record of 15-9, with 11 wins in conference matchups. Despite being six games over .500, the Thunderbirds drew the short end of the stick for the Section 8A playoffs. They fell on the road at Fertile-Beltrami 52-41.
If Mahnomen-Waubun takes a step forward, it will come at the expense of its conference and section foes, specifically the teams at the top.
"On the North side, Fosston and Fertile are going to be very tough," Qual said. "They are the two best teams in the conference. If we want to put our stamp on the conference, we are going to have to compete with them and beat them. They bring back some really good players. They're really solid groups with great coaching. That's kind of the cream of the crop."
I think the South is more balanced," Qual said. "You always have to account for Ada-Borup. They have a hall-of-fame coach over there that tends to make progressions more rapidly. They do such a great job of reloading and developing. I look at Lake Park-Audubon as another team that could be pretty good. They return a lot of kids. The Schauer girls are back, and it was us versus them last year in the conference. I think a team that's going to surprise some people is Park Christian. They were super competitive last year and didn't graduate a single kid."
Qual wants his girls to make the trip to Thief River Falls for the second round of the section playoffs. It starts with getting hot at the right time of the season.
"It comes down to who is playing their best at the right time in every basketball tournament," Qual said. "You see it every year. You saw it with our boys a couple of years ago. They made a huge run, and they weren't the top seed. If we can put ourselves in a position to get a home game and in a spot to get to (the Ralph Engelstad Arena), who knows?"
The Thunderbirds want to push the pace on their opponents this season, starting on the defensive end.
"We need to defend," Qual said. "With our style of basketball, we love to push the ball. In order for us to do what we want to do offensively, we have to be gritty on the other end. We have to get stops and defensive rebounds to get us on transition. We're not going to beat teams from the floor to the rum, but we can beat them baseline to baseline. We want to be quick up and down. We have speed, and we like to push the ball. Hopefully, that'll help make up for some of the height we're missing. It all starts and stops with our defense this year."