Lauren Safranski and Sacarra Molina have played through an interesting four-year stretch as members of the Minot State University women's basketball team.
For their first two years in Beaver uniforms, MSU competed in the NAIA and the Dakota Athletic Conference - with the team qualifying for the NAIA national tournament during their freshman season. In their junior campaigns came a brutal, road-heavy schedule as MSU transitioned into NCAA Division II.
And last weekend they became the first four-year players to be honored on a senior night in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference contest, and Molina scored the game-winning basket.
Minot State senior guard Sacarra Molina has started all but one of the Beavers’ games the last three seasons. She is currently MSU’s second-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game.
Minot State senior Lauren Safranski, shown here driving past a Winona State defender during a January game, spearheads the Beavers’ trapping half-court defense.
Through it all, they've been remarkably consistent.
"If they're not giving absolutely everything they can, I usually have to ask them what's up, and there's usually a reason," MSU coach Sheila Green Gerding said. "There's so much to be said for that. Not every kid's like that. It's hard for (most kids) to motivate themselves every day and I could count on one hand between the two of them how many practices they haven't given 100 percent, and there's always a really good reason why."
The seniors' steadiness in the practice gym has translated into greater trust from Green Gerding and more minutes for the pair. Molina has started all but one of the Beavers' games the last three seasons and is leading the team this season with 32.4 minutes per contest. Safranski started all 26 games during her junior year and 22 of the 23 she's played in this season.
Molina doesn't describe herself as a vocal leader, but she's been a team captain since her sophomore season and is a constant communicator on the floor.
"I can't say I've ever been really vocal, but I felt like even when I was a freshman or a sophomore, if I knew something was wrong I wasn't afraid to let people know," Molina said.
Despite Molina's 5-foot-7 stature, the Hinsdale, Mont., native played some power forward as a freshman before moving to point guard the next two seasons. Now, she's playing her natural position of shooting guard and netting 12.8 points per game - the second-highest total on the team.
"She's finally getting the chance to play where she truly belongs and she's blossoming," Green Gerding said. "She's doing the thing that she's capable of doing in being able to score and get to the rim instead of having to play out of position all the time."
Safranski has made herself indispensable by being a ball-hawking defender and spearheading the Beavers' trapping half-court defense. When MSU is in man-to-man, it's often Safranski's task to keep her long-armed, 5-11 frame glued to the opposing team's best perimeter player.
"The defense that we play ... is really aggressive and in-your-face," said Safranski, a native of Burnsville, Minn. "I like that style of play. And then we have Carly Boag, who this weekend averaged 32 points. And you have Sacarra and (Francesca DeAngelis) - they can get you your double digits every game. I'm happy trying to play as a solid player. I love the role of coach being able to depend on me as being able to guard (the opponent's) best player. I think it's an honor to have that role."
Green Gerding said the improvement of her two four-year seniors - DeAngelis is a transfer who only played this season - has helped ease the Beavers' transition to the Division II level.
"They understand the expectations of the program," Green Gerding said. "They've grown through the program and they've become the program. It's their job to control all the stuff off the court and make our new kids understand what we're about and what's expected."
Before passing the torch, though, Molina and Safranski hope to lead the Beavers (12-12 overall, 8-12 NSIC) to a couple more wins in their inaugural D-II season. MSU travels to Northern State (S.D.) and Minnesota State-Moorhead this weekend before beginning play in the conference tournament on Wednesday.
"I just wanna play hard," Molina said. "I want my team to play hard for us, for themselves, for the seniors. I want to end my career with no regrets from not playing hard into the playoffs."
Beavers playing for home playoff game
With a home sweep of Bemidji State and Minnesota, Crookston last weekend, the MSU men's basketball team kept alive its chances of earning a first-round home playoff game in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament.
To achieve that, the Beavers (10-14 overall, 9-11 NSIC) will likely need to beat Northern State (S.D.) on Friday and Minnesota State-Moorhead on Saturday. Winning those games would bump MSU into at least a tie for fourth place in the NSIC North Division with Moorhead, and the Beavers would own the tiebreaker with the Dragons.
The bad news for MSU: this weekend's opponents crushed the Beavers by an average of 25 points earlier this season at the MSU Dome.
The good news for the Beavers: they're playing better basketball than they were two months ago.
"On any team, a lot changes over two months and certainly we've become a lot better basketball team since then," MSU coach Matt Murken said. "So we're excited to see how we can play against these guys now, but we certainly know it's going to be a challenge."
Against BSU and Crookston, MSU broke the 80-point mark in both victories - the first time the team's accomplished that in any two-game stretch.
Junior guard E.J. Williams has emerged as a reliable go-to scorer, posting double-figure point totals in six of the Beavers' last seven outings.
"I think we're getting each other better shots more consistently and easier shots more consistently," Murken said.
But the Beavers' improvement will be tested this weekend against Moorhead and Northern State, both of which rank in the top four in the NSIC in field-goal percentage defense.
"We have one of the more difficult road trips on the entire league as far as playing two travel partners that are close to the top of the league," Murken said. "It's a really tough trip that not too many teams have been successful on. It's nice going in that if we win two we're gonna be at home. We know there's still a lot to play for."
MSU's starting center Kelvin Fraser, a prolific shot-blocker, won't play this weekend and is still out indefinitely while rehabbing from arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
MSU baseball teamreceiving votes
The MSU baseball team received votes in the season's first National College Baseball Writers Association Central Region poll, which was released Monday.
MSU is 3-1 this season after sweeping Minnesota Duluth and splitting a pair of games with Wayne State (Neb.) last week at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The Beavers received two points in the voting, which puts them two spots outside the top 10. The top eight teams in the Central Region qualify for the region tournament in May.