Girls' basketball: Parkers Prairie primed for one more run
To outsiders, it might have felt like the window for a deep run into the Class A state tournament had closed after the Parkers Prairie girls came up short against Ada-Borup in the section finals last winter.
After all, the Panthers were losing two talented seniors in Tamara Schmidt and Kaylee Dorn. Any thoughts of Parkers Prairie taking a drastic step back were a bit premature, though. As long as Madison Dorn and Micaela Noga are still running the show, this team will have a chance to win no matter who it plays.
"I feel even more confident," Noga said after the Panthers ran all over West Central Area 84-35 on Tuesday night. "We're a year older now. We're seniors and juniors now, and we've been playing together since third grade. We kind of know this is it, but I feel even more confident than last year."
The Panthers have played with that swagger through a perfect 12-0 start to the season. That has them ranked eighth in the latest Class A polls, and even that might be a little low for a team that features three players as consistent as Dorn, Noga and senior forward Ally Taylor.
Dorn has turned herself into one of the best players to ever come through the Parkers Prairie program. She cemented that legacy against the Knights on Thursday with 31 points to join current University of Minnesota guard Sari Noga as the only players to reach 2,000 points in their Parkers Prairie careers.
"I'm proud of myself, but I know that I never could have gotten 2,000 points without everyone around me," Dorn said. "There's teams out there who have one good player, but they never reach a 2,000-point goal because they don't have anyone else to push them every day at practice to get better. It means as much to me as I want it to mean to my team because I couldn't do it without them."
Dorn set the tone against West Central Area after a slow start for the Panthers. She missed some open looks early before coming to life and scoring 18 points to help her team to a 42-19 lead at the break. She was aggressive going to the basket and also added three triples. Noga found her on a lot of those buckets as the junior point guard finished with nine assists to go along with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Those are the kind of nights this team expects out of their two stars, but it's the play of Taylor that could be the difference against good teams come tournament time. She has added the consistent third scoring threat the Panthers were looking for coming into the season. Taylor shot with confidence against the Knights on her way to 23 points.
"I think she's come a long ways," Dorn said of Taylor. "I think it helps knowing we need her to score. Before, she knew she needed to score some, but other people would do it. This year, she knows she has to score. We've told her that, so I think she just knows and she just goes at it more because she knows we need her to put points on the board."
That will be especially important if the Panthers are able to work their way back to the section finals. Ada-Borup looks like the team they might have to go through again if they are going to accomplish their goal of getting back to the state tournament for the first time since 2010.
The Cougars have another strong team that is off to a 7-1 start. They are ranked sixth in the latest Class A polls, despite losing star player Taylor Kujava to graduation last year. Kujava was the difference in last year's section title game as she finished with a game-high 34 points.
"After we lost to them, the next day in the Fargo Forum, she said, 'I looked up at the clock with eight minutes in a tie game and said I'm going to do this,' " Panthers head coach John Noga said. "And she took over. She did. That's the kind of leadership I need. I think I have two people like that, and Ally has a different mentality this year too. Those three have that determination in those big moments. I think that will be a big edge for us."
There's no doubting how much they want to take advantage of one last run together. Taylor and Dorn are both seniors, so there's no next year for this core group. The door for a deep run into the tournament is still ajar. Now it's on the Panthers to take advantage of that.
"For me personally, and [Madison] too, we are just down to the wire," Micaela said. "We're getting there this year no matter what. We're going to give everything we can."
PARKERS PRAIRIE 42 42 - 84
WCA 19 16 - 35
PARKERS PRAIRIE - Dorn - 31 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks; Jessica McDaniels - 2 points, 1 rebound; Noga - 14 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, 1 block; Taylor - 23 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block; Brittany Shircliff - 1 rebound; Brenna Warren - 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal; LaDeanna Swanson - 2 rebounds; Renee Warren - 2 points, 1 assist; Danielle Pratt - 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals
WCA - Holly Van Kempen - 8 points; Christina Kruize - 2 points; Kylee Fernholz - 13 points; Kelsey Hammer - 6 points; Abby Van Kempen - 4 points; Kiersten Sabolik - 2 points