After starting the season with four straight losses, the Central Lakes College Raiders men's basketball team has rattled off four consecutive wins, including last Saturday's dramatic 77-76 overtime victory over Ridgewater.
The Raiders (4-4) hope to extend their win streak as they open North Division play at home Friday against Hibbing at 8 p.m. and Rainy River Saturday at 3 p.m.
Hibbing's Dan Christy will give the Raiders problems from the outside as he brings his 16-point average to town Friday.
On Saturday, CLC's defense will have double-trouble as Mario Vargas and Carl Beard, both scoring more than 20 points per game, come to CLC looking to steal a win.
CLC will be without leading scorer Daakarr Bellfield, who's working on resolving some personal issues before he returns to the team.
Even without Bellfield, CLC's strength is still its inside game. Now more than ever, Raiders coach Jim Russell will rely on the play of Tony Monson, Ronald Jackson and Ben Neuhaus.
The post will be manned by the 6-foot-6 Monson and his 8.0 points per game. Jackson, a 6-7 forward with long arms, provides a strong defensive presence inside. The 6-7 Neuhaus, who scored eight points against Ridgewater, will also carry more of a scoring burden.
Russell will throw 6-4 forwards Mike Peeters and Mike Pater into the fray as he looks for scoring balance from his bench.
"They're going to give their best efforts," Russell said of Pater and Peeters, "and they're good team players. I can't ask for more than that. That's what we have to be, we have to be that team. We have to give 100 percent effort."
The Raiders will also need to get improved play from their guards, and, as long as their inside game keeps flourishing, the outside game should follow.
One player that has stepped up his play is guard Deejay Mayfield. Against Ridgewater, Mayfield had a breakout game, scoring 19 points and shooting 58 percent from the floor.
"We'll still attack the inside," Russell said. "Our shooting is improving and the only way to improve the outside game is get the ball inside."
The Raider women's team has gotten off to a rough start, dropping three of its last four games by five points or less, and it won't get any easier as it enters North Division play this weekend.
Hibbing comes to town Friday for a 6 p.m. game while Rainy River will face the Raiders 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hibbing is also off to a tough start as it has yet to get in the win column. CLC will have to try and stop Hibbing forward Lakeshia White, who's averaging better than 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Johannes sisters of Rainy River, Shannon and Shawna, rank in the top 10 in almost every offensive category and will surely give the Raiders problems Saturday afternoon.
Shannon leads the North in points per game, averaging more than 24, while Shawna is scoring close to 18 points a game, fifth in the North. Shannon is third in 3-point shooting while Shawna is fourth. The sisters are also in the top 10 in the north in steals, field goal shooting and free throw shooting.
The Raiders will go to battle with Val Diedrich and Tara Storts. Diedrich is averaging 16.8 points and more than nine rebounds per game while Storts, one of the top 3-point shooters in the North, is chipping in 11.1 points a game.
In order for the Raiders to be successful, coach Dennis Eastman will need a few of his freshmen to step up and take some of the scoring burden off Diedrich and Storts.
One of those players could be guard/forward Bobbi VanWechel, who had a breakout game last Friday, scoring 13 points in a loss against Ridgewater. She's averaging 7.4 points.
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