GIRLS BASKETBALL: Tigers have tall order

MARSHALL – After a three-year absence, the Marshall Tigers are headed back to the state tournament.

Marshall (28-1 overall), which has won 16 straight games, earned the No. 3 seed in Class 3A and will take on Chisago Lakes Area at 12 p.m. Wednesday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

The Wildcats enter the state tournament with a record of 22-6 and tout future Iowa State Cyclone Bryanna Fernstrom, who averages 26 points and 13 rebounds.

Marshall head coach Dan Westby said the Tigers have been working to defend Fernstrom.

“She’s 6-foot-5 and she’s strong. Our main concern is going to be to keep her away from the basket,” Westby said. “We’re trying to do a little bit of everything. We’re going to try and neutralize some of that size.”

Marshall has been undersized against most of its opponents all season and has relied on getting out on the break and creating an extremely fast tempo.

Junior Sarah Buysse is the leading scorer for the Tigers, averaging 14 points, while senior Kenzie Beekman is also averaging 14 points and pulls down six rebounds.

Senior Hannah Bennett also provides a nice scoring lift for the Tigers, averaging 11 points and five assists.

The Tigers, who were ranked second in Class 3A in the final Minnesota Basketball News poll, have been working extra-hard on crashing the boards in practice to prepare for the Wildcats.

“We’ve been working really hard on rebounding,” Bennett said. “We haven’t been rebounding well lately and we know that there are people that are going to come in and rebound tough against us.”

Bennett and Beekman were both freshman when the Tigers made their last trip to the state tournament in 2011, when they almost pulled the upset over No. 2 seeded Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

Being the No. 3 seed this time around, things are a little bit different.

“I feel like everyone is out to get Marshall, anyway, in any sport,” Bennett said. “I feel like we have to go (into this tournament) mad about how we got seeded. We’re going to go in and work hard.”

Chisago Lakes Area is making its third consecutive and overall appearance in the state tournament. The Wildcats, who lost in the quarterfinals in 2013, were ranked No. 8 in the final MBN poll. Senior Sam Forslund, who averages 7.4 points, will play at Dakota Wesleyan next year, while junior Sarah Greene adds 13 points.

Being the No. 3 seed, the Tigers are favored to defeat the unseeded Wildcats. Beekman knows that coming out with a victory will not be easy and the bigger lights will be just as big of a challenge.

“Adjusting to the atmosphere will be the main challenge,” Beekman said. “They’re from the cities so they will probably have bigger student sections than us. It’s just something we will have to get used to.”