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Warriors seek another title surge

Washington's depth, talent adds optimism


12:00 AM, Dec. 04, 2012 EST

Washington's Denae Veldkamp (right) drives against Roosevelt's Nicole Hatcher last season. The Warriors, who lost to Mitchell in last year's finals, have high hopes heading into 2012-13. / Jay Pickthorn / Argus Leader

The Washington girls basketball team has reached the Class AA state finals three of the past five years, winning titles in 2008 and 2010.

But the only history driving the Warriors this season is last year's 56-54 loss to Mitchell in the championship game, which kept the Sioux Falls powerhouse from its ultimate goal.

"We have high expectations in our program, and we expect to be competing for a state championship every year," said coach Nate Malchow, in his eighth year at the school. "We've got a lot of belief in our program and tradition."

With two returning starters and plenty of size and talent, Washington is again among the top contenders.

The backcourt appears solid, with junior point guard Ellie Benson being joined by senior Denae Veldkamp, who recently committed to Mount Marty.

"Ellie has the ability to get into the lane as well as any player we've had here," said Malchow, whose team opens tonight at Sioux City East. "And (Veldkamp) is one of the stronger guards in the state. Her ability to finish is very good."

Other weapons on the perimeter include junior sharpshooters Hannah Nieman, who shot 40 percent on 3-pointers last season, and Kelsey Knecht.

The front line is led by 6-foot-1 senior forward Emma Hanson, who averaged nine points and six rebounds last season and is coming off a stellar volleyball campaign, much like Benson and Nieman.

"Emma is about as talented a player as we've had," said Malchow. "She can do just about everything."

Hanson will get help in the paint from a promising group that includes junior Sydney Koel (6-1) and Michaela Mayer (6-0) and freshman Sydney Arrington (6-0).

"Our inside depth is as good as it's been," said Malchow, adding that 5-9 juniors Peyton Vanderbrake and Lauren Farritor are also in the mix.

"We need to get games under our belt and find some closers, in terms of who's going to get ball in big moments. There are a lot of girls who can fill that role - we just need to get them in the right situations."

Malchow isn't shy about pointing to a big game on the schedule Jan. 4 at home against Mitchell, the team that beat Washington in last year's finals and is loaded against with Kerri Young and Macy Miller.

"We've got that one circled on our calendar," said Malchow.

 

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