The Wadena-Deer Creek girls' basketball team was ranked as high as fourth in Class 2A Jan. 3, but in the last poll the Wolverines were nowhere to be found.
Don't look for the Wolverines to cry foul because they are more concerned with the difficult week ahead than the rankings.
W-DC is 7-1 overall and 3-0 in the Mid-State Conference. Its only loss was a 43-40 nail-bitter against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Dec. 15. Since then the Wolverines have rattled off four straight wins, including a 67-50 victory over Bertha-Hewitt.
That was only the third time W-DC has given up more than 40 points. The Wolverines are holding opponents to 40.8 points while their offense is producing 55.9.
"We focus on defense," said W-DC coach Becky Woessner. "If everything else goes wrong, we can play defense.
"We haven't rebounded very well the last couple games, against Park Rapids and Bertha-Hewitt, so we've refocused on boxing out, getting the defensive rebound and running the floor. We like to run the floor.
"We've changed some things defensively. We're not a tall team. Because of that, we have to stop the ball in the backcourt and spread an opponents' offense out."
The starting five has been everything Woessner expected it would be. Center Kerby Johnson is 11 points away from 1,000 and is averaging 18.5 points and 8.8 rebounds. Shooting guard Marissa Browne is averaging 14.1 points and 4.3 rebounds while forward Sara Kneisl is adding 7.3 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Point guard Missy Speed is averaging 4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while post Avery Buresh is contributing 5 points and 4.5 rebounds.
The problem for W-DC arises when those five get in foul trouble or wear down. W-DC's bench needs to step up. Christie Hanson has been a consistent sixth player, averaging 5.6 points and 2 rebounds, but production falls off after that.
"My bench doesn't concern me unless we get in foul trouble," said Woessner. "I know I have six girls strong. Heather (Lehmkuhl) isn't going to be a big scorer but she's a great defender. The next three off the bench are juniors and they're stable. If we use them, it would be for defensive situations.
"Christie has really come on strong. She hit five out of six against Park Rapids and ended up with 13 points. She has a nice shot on the wing. I told her in order to take some pressure off the other players that she has to shoot and she's been doing a nice job with that."
W-DC's lack of depth might pose a problem against the deep Staples-Motley Cardinals, who like to play an up-tempo game. The Cardinals are on a roll, winning their last six, including victories over Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus and Crookston last week.
S-M head coach Ron Beachy would like nothing more than to get into a track meet with the Wolverines.
"We tried the up-tempo game last time as much as we could," said Beachy. "We were missing Michelle Honek (who was on a church retreat). We're still looking for Sarah Miller to get back to full strength from an injury as well. Those two would definitely help us to be more consistent."
W-DC beat the Cardinals 54-37 Dec. 7. In that game, Jenny Steinkopf and Lehmkuhl contributed six points off the bench. They'll need to contribute some valuable minutes in the conference rematch 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
"We don't want to get in a running match with Staples," said Woessner. "We want to try and contain them halfcourt. We want to keep (Steph) Rice off the boards and contain Honek.
"(Rachel) Domier and Laura Warn can hit the outside shot and Heather Gold likes to drive to the hole. After watching them on Saturday (a victory over Crookston), Honek and Rice have a nice little two-person game so we're going to try and stop that. "
Before that game, the Wolverines host Pine River-Backus 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. PR-B has dropped four of its last six games but is coming off a victory against Menahga.
PR-B matches up well with W-DC as both teams have talented starters. The Tigers get into trouble when they have to go too far down the bench.
"Pine River has Meg Tabaka and she works hard and plays hard," said Woessner. "Brittany (Nelson) will take the outside shot.
"I'm expecting a zone defense, a box-and-one or a triangle defense to try and stop Kerby and Marissa, but if we can get into a running game with them, that would be nice because they're only five or six deep."
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