January 14, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.
The Columbia Heights Hylanders were clearly overmatched when they took the court against the supremely talented North Branch girls basketball team early last week.
"We had a good start to this game, and we were able to get a nice lead in the first 10 minutes," Head Coach Dan Schindler said.
Senior Rebecca Collins led the offense in their quick start, scoring 13 first half points while dominating the inside of Heights' defense.
The Vikings' press defense also gave the Hylanders headaches, and between that and Collins' scoring ability, North Branch enjoyed a 20-point lead at halftime at 29-9.
"Our defense has been very good all year, and holding a team to nine first half points really was nice," Schindler said. "We played great team defense and we are starting to really minimize our mistakes on defense."
The Vikings literally played a mistake-free first half, as they didn't turn the ball over at all in the opening half. Schindler, who has been the head coach for 23 years, said he can't remember a team not having a turnover in a full half.
In the second half, the two squads just traded baskets, and North Branch was never in any danger of losing their comfortable lead to the Hylanders.
Collins led the team with 18 points, and Kendra Norman had 11 points on the night.
North Branch 52, St. Louis Park 39
In the second game of the week, the Vikings came out flat against the athletic Orioles.
St. Louis Park has one of the best players in the North Suburban Conference in Kika Greenlee. She came into the game averaging nearly 18 points per game, and she was fresh off of a 35 point game in a win over Spring Lake Park.
However, the Vikings pride themselves on their tight defense, and on this night, it was no different.
The offense struggled mightily throughout the first half, as they shot only six-for 33. Miranda Charley, though, locked down Greenlee and the Vikings were able to stay close despite their poor shooting. The Orioles led 20-17 at halftime.
After the Orioles added an early three-pointer to go up by six points in the second half, the Vikes went on a 13-0 run to take a lead they would never give up. "We started making some of those shots we missed in the first half and scored 35 points in the second half," Schindler explained.
Charley was key in holding Greenlee to 16 points during the game. Not only did she keep Greenlee under her season average for points, she added seven points and 17 rebounds on the night.
With Greenlee in check and the offense hitting on all cylinders in the second half, it was a fairly easy win for the Vikings as they only had to make their free throws down the stretch to ensure that the Orioles couldn't draw closer. Norman and Jessica Audette made sure of those shots, going six-for-six from the line to end the game.
Besides the three-headed scoring monster of Norman, Collins and Jessica Audette, who combined for 37 of North Branch's 52 points, some vital bench players also made some contributions. "Josie Forstrom came in and did a nice job for us," Schindler said. "We keep saying that we will be as good as our bench makes us, and Josie came in and did a nice job on both ends of the floor."
The win moved the Vikings to 3-1 in the NSC with their only loss coming to perennial power Totino Grace.
North Branch 45, Duluth Denfeld 32
The Vikings concluded their whirlwind week with a non-conference victory over the Duluth Denfeld Hunters.
The tip-off to this game was only 15 hours after the final buzzer sounded to the St. Louis Park game, so the Vikings' gas tank was running a little low.
The quick turnaround led to another slow start on offense by the Vikings. "It's a good thing our defense has been so good," Schindler remarked. North Branch missed their first eight shots and their first six free throws.
The offense battled through their slow start though, and were able to take a lead before halftime at 20-15.
Much like the St. Louis Park game, once the second half hit and the Vikes got their shooting touch back, they started hitting their shots and pulled away from the Hunters. They built a 10-point lead early in the half and didn't let Duluth get close after that. The Vikings finished their third win on the week by a score of 45-32.
"We are really pleased with our defense right now and we are working hard to improve our shooting," Schindler said. "The team is really working hard and playing together as a unit. It certainly was a fun week. As I told our team, our opponents will be in trouble if we can start to make some of those easy shots we are missing."
On this afternoon, Norman led the Vikings with 24 points, and Charley had another big night hitting the boards, grabbing 12 rebounds along with eight points.
The Vikings hosted the Coaches vs Cancer fund raiser earlier this week when they took on county rival Chisago Lakes in a double header. The boys basketball teams took the courts at 5:45 and the girls play the nightcap beginning at 7:30.