The Tanager girls' basketball team doubled their victory total for the season during the past week, winning at home over Dell Rapids, 37-34, and over West Central, 60-35, and coming just short in an attempt to win three in a row Tuesday in a 49-40 loss at Dakota Valley.
Vermillion's last home girls game of the season occurs Friday night when Harrisburg, currently the top seed in District 7A with a 10-7 record, comes to the VHS gym as part of a girls-boys doubleheader. The Tanagers and the Tigers opened the season two months ago with a 49-40 Harrisburg win on its home court.
Next week the VHS girls close their regular season with a Monday date at Wagner. The Red Raider girls stand at 14-2 and are ranked fifth in the state in the Class "A" poll.
Vermillion will then have a week off until their District 8A opener on Feb. 23. The Tanagers will be the No. 4 seed and will play one of two semifinal games to be held on the home court of the No. 1 seed. Who that will be remains up in the air.
As of today, it would be Beresford (13-4), but the Watchdogs have just a one-game lead over Elk Point-Jefferson (12-5), and those teams play each other tonight. Dakota Valley is 10-5.
Coach Nick Mayer said he was "really happy" with his girls' performance in the win over Dell Rapids. "The kids are playing hard, and I'm happy to see they are excited and willing to stay after practice to shoot around." He added, "They want to get better, and they know our main goal is districts."
The Tanagers trailed after each of the first three quarters, including 29-28 with eight minutes left, but they had a 9-5 final-period advantage over the Quarriers. Three players ¬– Sophie Nehlich-Arobba, Sierra Allen and Kelly Amundson – led scoring with nine points apiece. Allen led rebounders with seven. Allen and Claire Jones had two steals each, and Sarah Day and Sophie Nehlich-Arobba contributed a pair of assists each.
Monday's 25-point win over West Central was surprising only because of that margin. Ten days earlier the Tanagers had lost to the Trojans in Hartford by 50-46 in overtime.
VHS extended a 10-8 first-quarter lead into a 24-13 halftime advantage and never looked back. "We played team basketball," Mayer pointed out, "and we had between 15 and 20 assists. It was great to see that kind of teamwork."
The Tanagers shot 44 percent from the field, a big improvement over most of their games when they have been in the 20 to 30-percent range.
Sarah Day scored 12 and Hannah Nehlich-Arobba 11 to lead the VHS scoring. The team's 60 points matched their high mark of the season, which occurred the first time in a loss at Sioux City East.
Trying for three in a row Tuesday night at Dakota Valley, the Tanagers restricted DV's star, Allyssa Wall, to 12 points, but she was still a force with 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. Besides that, she had help as Taylor Neff scored 14 and Whitney Dunn scored 12 for the Panthers.
Sierra Allen with 18 points led Vermillion. Lexi Regnerus added nine, Morgan Erickson six, Sarah Day four and Hannah Nehlich-Arobba three.
A 9-0 run over a five-minute span late in the first period and extending into the second proved fatal later. The Tanagers, down by eight, crept back to within one on seven straight Allen points but fell behind by 10 in the second and by 12 in the third.
Baskets by Erickson, Day and Hannah Nehlich-Arobba and a trey by Allen made a game of it in the final period as the Tanagers crept back to within three, 38-35, with under three minutes to go. But Dakota Valley sank 11 free throws down the stretch to avert a come-from-behind Tanager win.
Mayer admitted his team was flat in the early going, and that proved costly. "We have to come out ready to play whether we have had a game the previous night or not," he said.
The Tanagers will get that chance tonight.