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Heath Hotzler, Published March 12 2009

Wahpeton Huskies fine as No. 1 seed for state tournament

The fact that Wahpeton advanced to the North Dakota Class A boys basketball tournament shouldn’t be a surprise.

After all, the Huskies have a bench full of experienced talent and a team leader that nonchalantly buries big buckets from anywhere on the court.

But the No. 1 seed from the East? Surely, nobody thought that was possible?

“We all came into the season expecting this to happen,” said senior forward Bryant Friskop, who leads Wahpeton with 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a game.

“Not many teams respect us. Nobody thinks we have a chance, nobody thinks we can win. … We love to prove people wrong. It’s what we have to do on a daily basis.”

Wahpeton (18-4) will take on Bismarck (13-9) at 2 p.m. today in the first round of the state tournament at the Fargodome.

The Huskies, who qualified for state last season after a two-year hiatus, had a wild ride to the East’s top seed.

The team ended the regular season in a three-way tie with West Fargo and Fargo North for top spot in the Eastern Dakota Conference. Wahpeton entered the East Region tourney with the No. 3 seed due to tiebreaking criteria.

The Huskies rolled through Grand Forks Central before squeaking out wins against Fargo North and Grand Forks Red River.

They have 18 wins, and the team still has the feel of an underdog every time it hits the court.

Maybe, it’s because an enrollment of 434 makes Wahpeton Class A’s smallest school.

Maybe, it’s that Huskies’ 6-foot-9 “Big Man” Trevor Stevens looks like he could blow away with a mild North Dakota breeze.

Perhaps, it’s that the Huskies embrace being the “little team that could.”

“A lot of people don’t really think of Wahpeton as a basketball town,” said senior guard Jordan Ralph, the son of head coach, Jeff Ralph. “It kind of pushes us. Last year, we were happy to be at state. This year we feel like we’re going there to win. We feel like we have a chance to so something special.”

Something special always seems possible with this team – especially with Friskop on the floor.

Friskop emerged this year as one of the top offensive threats in the EDC.

He drills 3-pointers, drives to the basket and posts up smaller forwards.

But Friskop is sure to be the focus of opponents at state.

The Huskies know they’ll need everyone to play a role – as they did in the East Region tournament –if they want to advance.

“We feel like Bismarck is going to run at him like crazy,” Wahpeton coach Jeff Ralph said. “If he can get the ball to our open shooters, then we can get it back to him or get a good shot. … Our kids are going there to compete and to play (in the championship game) Saturday night.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com