Tom Mix, Published March 07 2012
Huskies hungry for win at stateWAHPETON, N.D. – Hills and valleys, ups and downs, highs and lows. All could describe the last four years for the Wahpeton boys basketball team.
Only two years removed from a 1-20 season, Wahpeton is in the midst of an upturn. The Huskies have experienced a series of big moments the last month, but hope their high-water mark has yet to come.
Wahpeton, the No. 3 seed from the East Region, is making its first appearance in the North Dakota Class A state tournament since 2009. The Huskies play West Region’s No. 2 seed Bismarck in the quarterfinals at 7:45 p.m. tonight at the Fargodome.
“We look at it like it’s a great accomplishment for us to make it to state, but the most satisfying part for us would be getting an opening-round win,” Wahpeton coach Jeff Ralph said. “I think some of the happiness and giddiness has been a bit tempered because the players are thinking the same thing that we need to win a game at state. This team has the mentality and the ability to do that.”
Wahpeton is 8-2 in its last 10 games with regular-season wins against Grand Forks Red River, who was undefeated at the time, and ranked Fargo Shanley.
The latest high point for the Huskies came when senior guard Jeremy Bontjes hit the game-winning shot in the closing seconds of a 75-73 state-qualifying win over Fargo Davies at the East Region tournament.
“Everyone is having fun and that’s the main point,” Bontjes said. “I think that’s how everyone is looking at it and hopefully it pays off this weekend.”
The Huskies didn’t have much fun in 2010 losing 20 games, but the program’s younger players got more experience. Senior Zayne Medhaug started as a sophomore and, along with Bontjes, began showing signs of better days to come for Wahpeton.
“We knew there would be times when we would struggle that year,” Ralph said. “It paid off though … (Jeremy and Zayne) especially going through that 1-20 season is a testament to their character for sticking it out.”
Bontjes is the only player on this season’s roster that played on Wahpeton’s 2009 tournament team. The 5-foot-9 guard has come full circle averaging a team-leading 18.5 points per game.
“We knew we had to keep working,” Bontjes said. “We had a lot of young players and we knew eventually we would get to this point. Coach Ralph did a good job of keeping us on track and getting us to where we wanted to be.”
Last season Wahpeton finished 9-14 and started preparing for a breakout season. Like Medhaug, senior Carson Miller got plenty of playing time as a sophomore and both have become solid contributors.
Miller averages 11.6 ppg and Medhaug, who is committed to play football at Minnesota State Moorhead, averages 9.3 ppg and 7.1 rebounds per game.
“It ended up being a long year, but we got some experience,” Medhaug said of the 1-20 season. “Last year there were points where we showed we could be a good team, but we just couldn’t always put it all together. We knew if we worked hard in the offseason we’d be a good team this year.”
Bontjes is considering attending Jamestown College or North Dakota State, but this weekend is it for basketball.
“It gives you a little more motivation,” Bontjes said. “Live it up while it lasts I guess.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562
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