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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Lady Devils set sights on ending state tournament drought

By Eric Killelea

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Led by head coach Kayla Rivas, the Dawson County High School girls basketball team enters the season with a newfound goal of making the Class A state tournament for the first time since 2009.

Last season, the Lady Red Devils won two “play-ins”, or elimination games, and then finished 1-2 at Divisionals. They played five games in less than four days and fell one game short of making state. Afterward, several players approached Rivas and promised that they would “never compete in another play-in game and never fall short of state.”

“It’s what they set at their goal and what has motivated them over the past year,” Rivas said during an interview on Thursday. “They want to make it to state and finish in the top three in their conference.” 

Rivas, who played for Glendive before and Montana State University in Billings, is now in her fifth year as head coach for DCHS. 

Despite losing three starters to graduation, Rivas said it was easy to get the goal-oriented, 17-member team into the gym over the summer and inside the DCHS gym for their first round of practices two weeks ago. Her roster includes one senior, large junior and sophomore classes and three freshman. With low numbers, she looks to a group of talented players with varsity experience, such as senior Jaley Wyse, juniors Thea Robson, Kendra Kaufman and Bailey Pearcy and sophomores Karsen Murphy and Savannah Toms.

The plan is to start Wyse as a guard. “I expect her to be one of the top defenders in the conference,” Rivas said. “She’s not the loudest on the court, but she leads in steals and keeps us calm and level.”

Kaufman, a guard and forward, is expected to “hit the boards hard, play on the top of the zone and be hard to pass,” Rivas said. Pearcy is another guard who “has improved her shooting and will earn points.”

Murphy is “a very long, athletic, six-foot athlete who will be a versatile player,” Rivas added. “She can hit shots from the outside and in post up. She’s a tough matchup.”

Rivas considers her team “pretty deep from the top to bottom,” with multiple players capable of filling in positions on the court.

With a deep bench in mind, Rivas is thinking about bringing up to 10 players (maximum 12) to the season openers against Lewistown on Dec. 8 and Havre on Dec. 9. The annual Sidney-based Tip-Off Tournament has been cancelled and next week will be the only time the girls get to play Central A teams until the combined Eastern-Central Divisionals.

Reach Eric Killelea at ejkillelea@gmail.com.

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