MARSHALL - It was just an exhibition game against a lower-level opponent, but the Southwest Minnesota State women's basketball team got a glimpse of how effective its new-look squad can be when running on all cylinders.
Fueled by 19 steals, the Mustangs were able to get out and run, and they bolted past Bethel University for a dominant 76-45 victory Monday night at the R/A Facility.
With a handful of new faces and a more up-tempo style of play, the Mustangs had seven players score seven or more points in the win. Freshman point guard Annessa Rosch came off the bench and scored 14 points to lead the team, while returning players Hope Bonlander and Bree Holleman scored 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Photo by?Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State freshman guard Mikayla Saathoff, right, goes for a layup in the second half of Monday night’s exhibition game against Bethel at the R/A Facility in Marshall.
For a program that went 6-20 last year, the Mustangs showed they have more versatility, more ball-handlers and more scorers on the court than before.
"That's what you want as a coach because those are the teams that are hard to prepare for," SMSU head coach Allison Kruger said. "I think the biggest thing for us is going to be balanced scoring. It's hard to defend a team where every kid is a threat, and I think that's something that's going to be tough for other teams to prepare for.
"I'm just really excited about where we're at. We have a lot of work to do yet, but we're headed in the right direction."
Kelly Swenson 6-16 1-3 13, Katelyn Vavra 2-2 2-3 8, Kristi Nye Studanski 2-7 0-0 4, Nicole Berscheid 1-3 1-2 3, Kiah Dahlquist 3-6 4-5 10, Lexi Freisen 0-1 0-0 0, Kaylee Dorn 0-9 3-4 3, Kailey Eid 0-2 0-0 0, Alicia Montbriand 0-1 0-0 0, Lindy Parker 1-2 0-0 2, Megan Brodeur 0-1 2-2 3. Totals 15-50 13-19 45. Three-pointers 2-9 (Vavra 2-2) Rebounds 42 (Montbriand 8, Studanski 5) Assists 6 (Swenson 3) Blocks 2 Steals 5 Turnovers 26 Total Fouls 11.
Rebekah Rolling 1-8 0-0 2, Mikayla Saathoff 3-7 1-2 7, Bree Holleman 4-9 2-2 12, Hope Bonlander 6-13 1-1 13, Emilee Duske 4-7 1-2 9, Val Sahr 1-2 0-0 2, Megan DeRuyter 3-4 0-0 8, Hannah Beeler 2-4 5-6 9, Annessa Rosch 5-10 2-4 14. Totals 29-66 12-17 76. Three-pointers 6-17 (Holleman 2-5, DeRuyter 2-2, Rosch 2-3) Rebounds 37 (Duske 6, Beeler 6, Rosch 5, Rolling 5, Holleman 5) Assists 18 (Saathoff 4, Rosch 3, Sahr 3, Duske 3) Steals 19 (Rolling 6, Duske 4, Saathoff 3, Bonlander 3) Blocks 2 Turnovers 10 Total Fouls 16.
Halftime Score: SMSU 39, Bethel 18.
It was a bit of a sluggish start for both teams, and Bethel had a 7-6 lead five minutes into the game. The Mustangs began to create turnovers and went on a 20-4 run to take charge of the game. Freshman guard Megan DeRuyter had a big hand in the charge, drilling a pair of 3-pointers and scoring a team-high eight points in the half.
"Megan sparked us early on. The thing with that kid is she was patient tonight," Kruger said. "When she's patient and has her feet set, she makes good plays and makes shots. I thought she did good defensively, too, and that's going to be the key that gets our kids going. If we can get them into the mindset that if I play good defense, my offense is going to come to me, then we'll be right where we want to be."
While the Mustangs came up with 19 steals and forced 26 turnovers, they committed just 10 turnovers of their own while pushing the pace at every chance they had. Junior college transfer Rebekah Rolling led the Mustang defense with six steals in the game, while forward Val Sahr, who missed last year with an injury, had four steals. Freshman Mikayla Saathoff, who started the game at guard, added three steals, as did Bonlander.
Along with their thievery, the Mustangs were also unselfish, making extra passes throughout the night to find opener players for easy buckets. They finished with 18 assists compared to just six for Bethel. Saathoff had a team-high four assists, and three players (Sahr, Emilee Duske and Rosch) added three assists each.
"We got quite a few steals, which transitions into those easy points," Kruger said. "But I thought we did a good job once we got in transition and took care of the ball."
Monday's win capped SMSU's brief exhibition season. The Mustangs' other exhibition game was last week against Creighton, a Division I NCAA tournament team last season, which beat SMSU 90-60 and dominated down low. SMSU again had some issues on the boards Monday, getting out-rebounded 42-37.
The Mustangs open regular season play Friday at the Pittsburg State (Kan.) Classic. SMSU kicks off action against tournament host Pittsburg State, which is the third-ranked team in Division II.
"They're a good team, they have a lot of tradition and they're experienced," Kruger said. "It's going to be a good test for us, but ultimately, what we want to do is continue to improve at this point and not take a step backwards. We're just going to go in there and compete and see what happens."