It would make sense for the Bishop Ryan girls basketball team to start making travel arrangements for the Class B state tournament in Fargo come March.
The Lions return 11 of 12 players from last year's state championship team that finished a perfect 27-0, winning by an average of 38.2 points per game. Ryan's toughest Region 6 opponent from last year - Velva - graduated seven seniors.
But even with everything working in the Lions' favor, they aren't looking ahead or worrying about their opponents. They're more concerned about themselves and improving before their season opener against Thompson at 8 p.m. Friday at the Minot Auditorium. Ryan beat the Tommies 66-46 in a state semifinal in March.
Bishop Ryan junior guard
Maddie Wald drives to the basket past
Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood’s Sierra Smith last season. The Lions return 11 players from last year’s state championship team.
MDN File Photo
"Every time you start the year, you just have to work on the details," Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. "Work in the fundamentals and just make sure you're comfortable and ready to play.
"We just want to be the best team we can be. We don't take anybody lightly and we want to continue to grow and get better."
The returners include first-team all-state selection Hannah Stewart and second-team selections Gabbie Bohl and Anika Rovig. Hannah Stewart - a 6-foot-2 junior forward - led the Lions in nearly every statistical category last season. She averaged 21.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.7 steals and 3.2 blocks per game and scored 30-plus points four times.
Meet the Lions
Seniors - Anika Rovig, Laurin Leidholt, Maddie Lipp, Sydney Landsiedel, Macy Christianson
Juniors - Hannah Stewart, Gabbie Bohl, Maddie Wald, Jacy Barstad, Kelly Kasper
Sophomore - Sheyenne Schmidt
Freshman - Morgan Kroeger
December 13, vs. Thompson at Minot Aud, 8 p.m.; 14, vs. New Town at Minot Aud, 8 p.m.; 19, vs. Lakota-Edmore, 6 p.m.; 21, vs. Shiloh Christian, 4 p.m.; 28, at Beulah, 4 p.m.; 30, at Dickinson Trinity, 5 p.m.
January 7, vs. Rugby, 7:15 p.m.; 10, vs. Dunseith, 7:15 p.m.; 16, vs. Surrey, 7:15 p.m.; 21, at Our Redeemer's, 7:15 p.m.; 24, vs. Berthold, 7:15 p.m.; 25, at Bottineau, 5 p.m.; 30, vs. Des Lacs-Burlington, 7:15 p.m.; 31, at Velva, 7:15 p.m.
February 3, at Glenburn, 7:15 p.m.; 8, vs. Kenmare at Minot Aud, TBA; 10, vs. Parshall, 7:15 p.m.; 11, at Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, 7:15 p.m.; 18, vs. Turtle Lake-Mercer-McClusky, 7:15 p.m; 28-March 3, District 12 tournament at Minot Aud, TBA.
March 10-13, Region 6 tournament, TBA; 20-22, state tournament in Fargo, TBA.
"Keeping our heads is going to be half the battle," Hannah Stewart said. "Obviously, (winning state) is a good accomplishment we have in the past, but we're going to try and start over. Not get too big or too high on our horse because we have another season to play before tournament time. We're going to take it game by game, play by play."
Hannah Stewart is joined by Bohl - also a 6-foot-2 junior - in the post, providing an overwhelming advantage in the paint. Bohl averaged 14.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest.
The Lions lost defensive specialist Quinn Harmon to graduation but get back senior guard Sydney Landsiedel, who missed nearly the entire season with a torn ACL. Landsiedel was injured early in the third quarter of the season opener against Thompson.
"Everything's good," Landsiedel said. "Everything's coming along. I can tell I'm a lot stronger than I was last year."
Said Julie Stewart: "Sydney brings a spark. She just works really hard. It comes through in how fast, quick and strong she came back from surgery. She had her ACL surgery in February and she's just as explosive as she was before."
Landsiedel averaged 6.9 points per game as a sophomore.
Harmon was a big reason for Ryan's success on the defensive end. Harmon matched up against opponents' top players most nights and routinely shut them down. She came away with 72 steals during her senior season.
"We lost Quinn and she was a big defensive player on our team," Hannah Stewart said. "Her job was to get our defense going and our defense is what starts our offense. We're going to try to get our defense as sharp as possible before our first game."
Landsiedel said replacing Harmon won't be easy.
"I think everybody's going to have to step up, but I don't think there's just one person that will fill Quinn's role," she said. "Everyone will have to work together."
The Lions enter this season on a 29-game winning streak dating back to the 2012 state tournament.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.