NEW ULM - Faced with the challenge of taking on Tomahawk Conference leader Minnesota Valley Lutheran on Friday night, the Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop girls' basketball team had no intention of backing down.
However, the Chargers weren't about to see their undefeated conference season put in jeopardy, no matter how feisty their opponent.
The Thunderbirds rallied from a big first half deficit to pull within six points early in the second half, but MVL kept its composure and used its superior depth to earn a solid 68-49 conference victory.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Minnesota Valley Lutheran’s Nicole Moldstad drives to the basket as Alexis Kruggel (5) of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop defends on the play during the first half Friday at MVL.
"I'm proud of our girls for fighting back," MVL head coach Dave Biedenbender said. "We knew that they weren't going to go away, GFW played very hard, and with a lot of energy. They were just going to keep clawing and fighting at us, and I'm proud of our girls that they were able to kind of keep them at arm's length and keep them far enough away that we could win the game by a good margin."
The Chargers demonstrated their versatility on offense with eight different players contributing at least five points in the contest, but a strong shooting night from GFW eighth-grader Halley Busse gave life to a resilient Thunderbirds attack.
Busse ended up with a game-high 22 points, which included five 3-pointers.
"I felt pretty confident about it going in," Busse said of her shooting performance.
Busse scored five of her team's first seven points as GFW created a 7-6 lead in the early going, but MVL responded with a 26-10 run to build its biggest lead of the first half at 32-17.
Chargers sophomore Anna Munsen scored 10 of her team-high 14 points during the stretch.
Though the Thunderbirds trailed 38-27 at halftime, the team wasn't ready to abandon its game plan.
"We're going to be aggressive, we're going to come out and we're going to lay it all on the line," GFW head coach Ryan Jacobson said. "We know we're going up against the best team in the conference, they've got athletes and ballplayers all over the place. I said, 'We're not going to back down, we're going to try and do what we do and execute what we do, and hopefully make some shots.'"
Busse put that plan into action immediately, hitting a 3-pointer less than 10 seconds into the half. Teammate Alexis Jensen (eight points) added a basket to cut the lead to 38-32.
MVL senior Mariah Schoof (eight points, four assists) hit a 3-pointer to return some momentum to the home side, but Busse followed with another 3 of her own to make the score 41-35.
Chargers senior Chrissy Biedenbender (10 points, four assists, four rebounds) and Schoof responded with consecutive 3s to end a stretch of five 3-pointers over a six-basket span to begin the half.
"It definitely jacks up the score quite a bit, it kept it interesting," Chrissy Biedenbender said. "It was nice that we could get the good passing and get those 3s to extend the lead again."
From that point on MVL held Busse scoreless until the final minute of the game, extending the lead to 68-44 before Busse scored the final five points of the game.
Eight different Chargers contributed points in the second half, with 10 MVL players in total making it into the score book.
"We all have really good chemistry, so we just know what to do, we know how to pass it," Chrissy Biedenbender said. "We just worked really hard, and I think that was the key."
The Thunderbirds suffered a blow when junior Katelyn Seehafer crumpled to the floor in pain when the score was 38-32. Seehafer didn't return to the game, leaving an already young team without one of its veteran players.
GFW's lone senior, Eve Bleick, finished with nine points and sophomore Alexis Kruggel had four points.
Munsen finished with a team-high nine rebounds for the Chargers, with Charlotte Pfingsten (five points) earning a team-high five steals.
Adding top contributions for MVL were Martha Johnston (eight points, five rebounds, three steals), Nicole Moldstad (seven points), Sarah Burk (six points, seven rebounds) and Alexa Alfred (five points, six rebounds).
GFW (3-11, 1-8) will host Cedar Mountain/Comfrey in Winthrop on Tuesday.
"We're just going to build on that effort and that mentality of being aggressive," Jacobson said. "We try to be as aggressive as we can and not back down from anybody, and strive to get better."
MVL (15-1, 9-0) will host Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart on Tuesday and will then play host to Springfield on Friday.
"The girls know that we're having a nice season, a special season, but they also know that we need to continue to work and get better each day in practice, because every team is going to be gunning for us and playing a great game against us," Coach Biedenbender said. "That's the focus we need to have, is to continue to get better and better each day in practice and in each and every game, so we'll keep working to do that."