NEW ULM - After a long offseason, basketball returned to the Minnesota Valley Lutheran gymnasium in a big way on Tuesday night with a thrilling non-conference girls' basketball contest between MVL and Nicollet.
The Raiders used some clutch shooting to claw back from numerous deficits in the game, but the Chargers made some key free throws down the stretch to open their season with a 73-67 victory.
"I think it's a really good start to have," MVL junior Alexa Alfred said. "Once we got into it, once we played a little bit, we really started clicking more. I think as the season goes on it will continue to get better and better."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Minnesota Valley Lutheran’s Mariah Stein (10) makes a pass around Nicollet defender Katelyn Skrien during the first half Tuesday at MVL.
The game began as a slow-paced affair, but both teams hit their stride in the second half to turn the contest into a shootout.
Nicollet took an early 6-0 lead after a pair of baskets from Carissa Woller, but MVL sophomore Anna Munsen scored 10 of her team's first 15 points to give the Chargers their first lead at 15-14.
Munsen brought her first-half point total up to 14 with a basket that gave Nicollet a 30-22 lead with just seconds remaining before halftime. Nicollet senior Katelyn Skrien hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the half to cut the deficit to 30-25.
Heading into the second half, Nicollet knew that containing Munsen's impact on the game would be vital.
"We knew 50 [Munsen], she was really good with her left hand, that she would turn left," Skrien said. "At halftime, we talked about trying to shut her down, because she had 14 points in the first half, so we said if we could shut her down, that's half their points right there. So we came out and that's what we tried to do."
Despite the Raiders' best efforts, Munsen continued her strong play early in the second half, scoring her team's first six points of the half before a 3-pointer by Chrissy Biedenbender gave the Chargers a 39-30 lead.
However, Alyssa Wagner followed with a 3-pointer to help establish a theme of scoring from behind the arc for the Raiders.
Katelyn Skrien netted five 3-pointers and sister Emily Skrien made two 3-pointers to lead the way as the team recorded 10 3-pointers in the game, including seven in the second half.
"I've got great 3-point shooters, every day we practice it," Nicollet head coach Jennie Noreen said. "The Skrien sisters, they're excellent 3-point shooters, they're pure shooters. It's nice to have that outside shot. Our early ones didn't fall, that's what hurt us. They picked it up at the end, but it just wasn't enough."
After a Katelyn Skrien 3 tied the score at 39-39, Laura Schoenherr (eight points) made one of her two 3-pointers in the contest to quickly give the Chargers back the lead.
Later in the game, back-to-back 3-pointers by Emily Skrien (14 points) tied the score at 59-59, but a pair of made free throws by MVL's Nicole Moldstad followed by six straight points by Alfred gave the home side the lead for good.
"I think we knew we just had to keep fighting," Alfred said. "We knew we were capable of doing it, so we just had to keep working hard and work together as a team."
Moldstad made two free throws down the stretch and Munsen added four of her own to help seal the victory for the Chargers.
"Anna and Nicole really were key on the free throw line today," Alfred said. "Everyone really did well on free throws."
Nicollet kept up the pressure right until the end, keeping the tension high right until the final buzzer when Katelyn Skrien hit a long 2-pointer.
"I'm proud of the girls, they stuck through it," Noreen said. "They knew what they had to do, but they had a little more at the end than us. We burned out, we were in foul trouble - it's tough to play when you don't have a lot of girls and you're in foul trouble, it's tough to play to your fullest capability."
Free throws were a key difference in the game, as MVL took better advantage of their free throws by shooting 22-for-29 from the line as a team as opposed to a 22-for-38 mark by the Raiders.
Munsen led MVL with a phenomenal 15-for-16 effort from the free throw line, helping her accumulate a game-high 31 points. She also added 14 rebounds and three assists.
"Down the stretch we hit the free throws, and I thought we finally figured out their defense and did a good job of being patient and finding some holes there at the end," MVL head coach Dave Biedenbender said. "Between those two things, figuring out what to do on offense and then making those free throws down the stretch, I thought that was huge."
Katelyn Skrien led the Raiders with 27 points and also had three assists. Teammate Courtney Struss added 12 points, eight assists and four steals.
Nicollet (1-1) will continue its season with a home game against Martin Luther on Friday.
"We're starting to get comfortable with our new coach, with some new plays," Katelyn Skrien said. "It's really different than last year, we've got a lot of new girls, a lot of younger girls out, they're getting used to it now because it's their first time on varsity. It will be an exciting season, I think we'll come out strong later on because we'll get comfortable with each other."
Alfred finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals for the Chargers. Martha Johnson contributed six rebounds and three steals and Charlotte Pfingsten notched three assists.
MVL will host a tournament at Martin Luther College on Friday and Saturday. The Chargers will open their tournament campaign 4 p.m. Friday against West Lutheran.