WHEATLAND – The 2022-23 Lady Bulldogs took the first time Thursday morning for their opening game of the season in the Burns Winter Classic. Although they played three games in Burns, they returned to Wheatland to play their first home game of the season Saturday.
The very first quarter of their first matchup against Pine Bluffs turned out to be an icy start for the girls as they went 2-15 from the floor before recovering and only trailed by two after that first period, 13-11. What they lacked in shooting, they made up for with a stifling defense that captured many steals and yielded many fast breaks.
They continued their torrid pace on defense in the second quarter and also heated up on offense and went into the locker room with a 24-16 lead.
The second half was much the same as Pine Bluffs was held to three baskets and two free throws for the entire second half and Bulldogs skated away with a 60-30 victory. Lily Nichols led all scorers with 16 points, knocked down two 3-point shots and was perfect at the free throw line. Grace Battershell had 10 points, Jadea Graves had 9, Laynie Goertz ended up with 6, Brinley Heimsoth had 5, Camryn Mickelsen and Annaliese Matthews each had four points a piece while Kacey Otero and Alex Paulson each had 3 points.
The next game took place Friday against Burns who always puts up a fight against the Bulldogs. Once again the Lady Dogs began slow and again they trailed by the same score as the day before after quarter one, 13-11. A strong defensive outburst held Burns to only seven points in the second quarter and WHS headed to the locker room with a 24- 21 lead.
Although both teams had some spurts into the second half, the final outcome was 48-38 as the defensive minded Bulldogs held Burns to only 13 second half points. Although many of their second half points came in transition with Burns fouling in an attempt to stop the breaks, the Lady Dogs were also hitting from the perimeter
Graves led all scorers with 11 points, Nichols had 10, Matthews had 2, Otero had 7 including five-for-six at the free throw line. Mickelsen had 3, Battershell had 7, Heimsoth had 6 and Goertz had 2.
The Lady Bulldogs played again at the 7 p.m. game against Big Horn and showed once again that Michelle Coplen’s little girls have grown up and matured into a dangerous group of warriors. Not only is the defense stifling, but their transition game, their free throw shooting and their perimeter attack is deadly. Add Graves in the post as an immoveable force and you have a solid all-around attack.
Against Bighorn, again in the second half they only gave up one basket in the third and one in the fourth and created a running clock halfway through the final period. As the dust cleared, Wheatland came away with a 40-point victory, 58-18.
Nichols led all scorers with 22 points and she knocked down five 3-point shots. Graves was next with 9, Battershell had 8, Matthews had 4, Otero and Heimsoth each had three and Mickelsen ended with 2.
You have to go back to the month of December 2014 to find the last time a Lady Bulldog team opened with four victories in a row, and in fact that year, they began the season 5-0.
With Thermopolis coming to town Saturday, the girls had a bit of a chip on their shoulders as they remember not getting a chance to compete at the state tournament last year, being upset by Thermopolis 33-29, March 4.
In the first quarter the Lady Dogs took care of their business and began with an 8-point lead, 17-9, using a transition game that Thermopolis didn’t see last spring. By halftime, Wheatland had stiffened on defense and cranked up the intensity hitting the Bobcats with body shots in the paint where Graves recorded double figures for the quarter. They began to close the door with a 32-13 lead.
As the opponents put a lot of pressure on the outside guards to try to stop the perimeter game, Coplen had the girls pound the inside. Holding the Cats to only 10 points in the second half, once again, the Dogs were part of a running clock in the fourth quarter and came out with a 38-point victory, 61-23,
Graves did most of the damage in the paint scoring 26 points followed by Otero with 11, Nichols with 10, Mickelsen with 4, Goertz and Paulson with three each and Matthews with 2.
“The team's strong defense led the girls to victory over the weekend,” said Coplen. “The team averaged about 15 steals per game. The girls that played a huge role over the weekend with steals were Grace, Brinley, Lily, and Laynie. Offensively the girls see each other well. Kacey, Grace, and Brinley did an outstanding job seeing their teammates on the court. It really showed with our Saturday game, when they had some great passes into Jadea. Our rebounding was also one to notice with Jadea and Lily leading the tournament weekend. Overall, a lot of good things were already seen for the start of the team's season.”
The girls are outscoring their opponents after the first week of play 227 points to 109 points which gives them a 30-point winning marginal average.
The girls will play again on the road Friday afternoon at 12:30 at Lander High School. They won’t return to the friendly confines of Wheatland until Jan. 12 when Geering comes to town.