It is arguably the best rivalry to hit St. Cloud State in the last couple of years. The St. Cloud State women’s basketball team has squared off with the Taylor Varsho led University of Sioux Falls Cougars in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, with both teams pulling off a hard-fought win.
In the 2013-14 NSIC Tournament, the Cougars came to Halenbeck Hall and ended the Huskies season with a 75-68 victory. The loss ended the careers of St. Cloud State standouts Rachael Moen, Sam Price, and Jessica Benson. It was also a brutal wake up call to the returning Huskies’ players as they had a long way to go before they would be able to defeat the top teams in the NSIC when it mattered most.
From the beginning of the following season, it seemed that the Huskies were on a mission to get past the University of Sioux Falls. In a season preview interview, women’s basketball head coach Lori Fish said, “We have some unfinished business to do,” when asked about their goals for the upcoming year.
The quote became the Huskies’ mantra throughout the season. It lit a fire under the team as they got off to their best start since the 2005-06 season. The team rattled off eight straight wins, five of them against conference foes, and was ranked as the #21 team in America, before suffering their first defeat of the season on the road against the University of Minnesota Duluth.
They finished the season as the fourth seed in the NSIC North Division and got what they wanted all year long: a rematch with the Cougars at Halenbeck Hall.
Determined to write a different ending to this year’s story, the Huskies came out of the gate strong and built a 23-9 lead in the first eight minutes of play. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the Cougars were resilient; led by Taylor Varsho and Sam Knect’s combined 16 first half points, the Cougars cut the Huskies’ lead down to just three at the half, 38-35.
Varsho and company continued to roll early in the second half and the Huskies fell behind by eight midway through the period, but battled back to gain the 87-76 victory.
Karissa LeCaptain helped power the Huskies’ offense with 23 points to go along with 8 rebounds. LeCaptain hit 9 of her 14 jumpers and 5 of her 6 shots from the charity stripe.
Chelsea Nooker also had a strong showing for the team recording a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
However, it was Lexy Petermann that was the biggest difference maker in the second half. She was held scoreless in the first half of play, but exploded for 15 points in the second half.
This weekend, the rivalry recommences as the Huskies and the Cougars ready for battle as the season nears its close. Both teams are stronger than they’ve ever been before. The Huskies are fighting for the #1 seed in the North Division, as the Cougars do the same in the South.
The matchups are pretty much the same as last year: Taylor Varsho leads the Cougars in scoring, assists, steals, and three point shooting. She’s also 2nd in the NSIC in three-pointers made, 3rd in scoring, 5th in three point percentage and turnover ratio, and 8th in assists.
Varsho will, in all likelihood, be matched up with Betsy MacDonald. MacDonald is 23rd in the NSIC in scoring, 8th in three point percentage, 4th in three-pointers made, 13th in assists, and 10th in turnover ratio.
When asked about matching up with Taylor Varsho and the Cougars, MacDonald said grinning, “It’s going to be a showdown… They’re going to want it bad, because we beat them in the playoffs last year. We have to be ready and play our game [Saturday]”.
Chelsea Nooker will also be a player to watch for the Huskies. The junior guard from Green Bay is 8th in the NSIC in scoring, 15th in field goal percentage, 10th in rebounds, 5th in assists, 4th in turnover ratio, 9th in blocked shots, and leads the entire league in steals.
Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 4 p.m. and will be held at Halenbeck Hall and I, for one, already have my ticket punched. See you there!