Things didn’t go as well as the Valley City State University mens basketball team would have liked in the final three games of the regular season.
After losing only six of their first 26 games, the Vikings finished the season with three straight losses to Jamestown College, Dickinson State University and Mayville State University.
But with the Association of Independent Institutions conference tournament this weekend, the losses are a thing of the past.
“It’s a new season in a sense,” said VCSU mens coach Jeff Kaminsky, who has tried to focus his players on their success early in the season.
The Vikings are seeded second in the mens A.I.I. tournament, which starts Saturday with a semifinal game against host-Dakota State University in Madison, S.D. at 5 p.m.
The Viking women are seeded fourth in their tournament and will take on Dakota State Friday in the first round game at 6 p.m., also in Madison.
Each tournament will award NAIA national tournament berths to the winners of the semifinal games.
For the men, that means one more win will get them in while the women need to win two. The second would be a semifinal game against the Jamestown women, who have beaten the Vikings three times this year.
Luckily for the women, who struggled early in DAC play, the team regained its footing at just the right time to sneak into the tournament after getting wins over Dickinson State and Mayville last Wednesday and Saturday. Before those wins the Vikings had lost four straight and five of their last six.
“We’ve been playing with a little more agressiveness and that’s what you have to do,” said VCSU womens coach Jill DeVries.
In their tournament, the Viking women will see plenty of familiar faces.
The opening game against Dakota State will be the third time the teams have played this year.
The Vikings beat the Trojans 68-52 in Madison Jan. 8, and 59-44 at home Jan. 25.
With a win, the Vikings would get a fourth matchup this season against Jamestown for a national tournament berth. The Jimmies most recently beat the Vikings 56-44 Feb. 8 in Valley City.
DeVries said playing teams that frequently has both advantages and disadvantages, but the women are hoping to use it for the better.
The team’s only question mark is junior guard Katelyn Ralston, who averages over 10 points per game but suffered a shoulder injury in Saturday’s win over Mayville.
DeVries said her status for the tournament won’t be known until later in the week.
But even without Ralston, DeVries said the team has been thriving off production from its bench, including junior guard Allison Scherr, who had 19 against Mayville, freshman forward Kelsey Hunter, who has found her role in the offensive post, along with defensive standouts Sierra Even and Stephanie Pederson.
DeVries said that play from guards has been crucial lately.
“It’s key that we have some peremeter scoring which really opens up the inside for Alyssa (Hummel),” she said.
For the men, Saturday’s opening round against Dakota State will be the first time the teams have met this year, which Kaminsky sees as a good thing, especially since the team will be able to take a break from the same game film they’ve been watching for weeks with DAC teams.
“It gives us a focus,” he said. “To some extent we’ve been grinding it out with teams we’ve played three times already.”
Kaminsky he’s looking forward to the matchup against the Trojans, who are a physical team compared to the quick, nimble Vikings.
“I think it’s a big advantage for us,” he said. “We feel like we’re capable of playing at our level and have the ability to do things with our quickness to create problems for them.”
Kaminsky is also expecting his team to be healthier than it has been late in the season due to a week-long break between games.
Though the team could salivate over a potential finals matchup with Jamestown, who the Vikings have split a two-game series with this season, Kaminsky said the only game the team is focused on is Saturday’s semifinal and the national tournament berth.
“We have no thought process about other teams on the tournament, who we might play on Sunday,” he said. “We’ll deal with Sunday late Saturday night.”