As far as top-to-bottom strength goes, Minot girls basketball coach Todd Magnuson has seen stronger years in the West Region.
But the fifth-year coach would be hard-pressed to think of a time when it fielded this much parity.
Top-ranked and defending Class A champion Bismarck Century has a stranglehold on the nine-team league and crosstown rival Bismarck High is the fourth-ranked club in the state.
Minot High guard Loni Bryantt works around a Bismarck St. Mary’s defender during the Majettes’ win Jan. 31 at Magic City Campus. MHS has won five of its last six games.
There's a chasm between those two programs and the others vying for the No.3 and No.4 spots out the of top-heavy region, though - and out-of-nowhere Minot finds itself in the mix.
The streaking Majettes (6-6, 6-4) are 5-1 since Christmas break and were as high as third in the standings last week, the highest in the Magnuson regime.
Jamestown's upset of Bismarck on Saturday has Minot currently sitting in fourth with the Blue Jays in third.
"Coming into the season my 1-4 picks were Century, Bismarck, Jamestown and Mandan," Magnuson said. "I knew a lot of teams would be in the mix for the third and fourth spots and that's how it's been, but there's still a lot of basketball to be played."
Considering Minot's 1-4 start, youth, lack of size and adjusting to life after Holly Johnson - the 2012 North Dakota Miss Basketball winner and current starter at NDSU - the Majettes had a tough row to hoe.
Two of the more experienced returners in twin guards Sierra and McKale Duttenhefer were shelved with knee injuries, too. McKale's season-ending injury came in December while Sierra returned in early January from an ACL injury she sustained last summer.
Since Sierra's return Minot has downed then-No.4 Jamestown and Turtle Mountain - two teams the Majettes lost to in December - Mandan, St. Mary's and Williston.
"They're all buying into the system," Magnuson said. "I'm proud of them. They're working hard. We're having different players step up on different nights."
Minot, which plays just three seniors consistently in Loni Bryantt, Andie Hankla and Morgan Milbrath, is littered with underclassmen. The biggest surprise is the emergence of freshman Cassie Askvig.
The 6-foot inside-out talent has given the smaller Majettes length on the defensive end while adding to their array of shooters.
"She's hit some big shots for us," Magnuson said.
Magnuson plays a regular rotation of seven and, outside of Askvig, the players can put the ball on the floor in the Majettes' run-and-gun offense. The new system saw its growing pains early, but now it's perplexing opponents.
"They have so many guards," Turtle Mountain coach G.T. Monette said Minot. "They can press and beat your press."
Minot plays host to Bismarck tonight at 7:30 p.m, looking to avenge a 63-48 early-season loss to the Demons.
Magi grapplers ready for regional
Minot High's wrestling team may have locked down the No.4 spot out of the region heading into next week's state dual tournament, but the Magicians are aiming higher individually.
The West Region tournament, which kicks off on Saturday at the MSU Dome at 8 a.m., will feature grapplers trying to lock down a berth into next week's individual state tournament at the Fargodome.
The top eight wrestlers from each weight class advance to next week's championships.
Seniors Jesse Hoffart (138 pounds) Cody Haugen (145), Dayne Haman (195), Demetreus Roby (220) and Nick Nesdahl (285) - all top wrestlers in their respected classes - are expected to compete for titles this weekend for the Magicians.
Minot coach Nolan Spooner is also expecting things out of seniors Jorey Bartsch (132) and Brian Rabe (152).
"I'm expecting big things out of our seniors," Spooner said. "There's some real quality kids in the West, and we're going to need points from a lot of people. We're going to need everyone to step up."
Spooner believes Bismarck, Bismarck Century, Dickinson, Turtle Mountain and Williston will have enough quality and quantity to make it a formidable tournament.
"There's a lot of good teams," Spooner said. "Williston, in my opinion, is a darkhorse. They've got some good wrestlers, too."
Minot's first-round dual opponent next Thursday is state power West Fargo, which handled the Magicians 63-12 during the regular season.
"That's a tough draw," Spooner said. "But what can you do? We're going to have to wrestle well."