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Kelsey Schlenk first four-time national qualifier

By   Greg Devillers, Grand Forks Herald
03/14/2016

East Grand Forks' Schlenk will be the first Lake Region athlete to appear in four nationals

By Greg Devillers, Grand Forks Herald Sports

Published March 14, 2016, in the Grand Forks Herald

 

DEVILS LAKE—Kelsey Schlenk didn't go far from high school to college. Once the East Grand Forks Senior High graduate got here, a 90-mile drive from her home, however, her college athletic career has taken her great distances.

Schlenk is in Lubbock, Texas, starting at guard on the Lake Region State College team that is playing in the National Junior College Division I women's basketball tournament. The Lady Royals, seeded 20th, play Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in their tournament opener at 6 p.m. today.

This is the third national tournament appearance for Schlenk at Lake Region and a fourth is already on tap. She was a reserve on last season's Lake Region team that went to the national basketball tournament in Salina, Kansas. In addition, she played in the junior college national golf tournament in Arizona last spring and already has qualified for nationals in Florida this spring.

"It never crossed my mind that all this would happen when I signed here,'' Schlenk said. "I'm really thankful for the opportunities I've had.''

Schlenk is the first four-time national qualifier in Lake Region's history, according to Lady Royals basketball coach Danny Mertens. Mertens sees a correlation between Schlenk's two sports, in a mental rather than a physical aspect.

"Golf is such a mental game,'' Mertens said. "You can fall apart pretty fast on the golf course is you don't have that toughness. And Kelsey carries that mental toughness over onto the basketball court.''

That showed in the Region 13 championship game, when Lake Region beat North Dakota State School of Science 73-63 to qualify for nationals. Schlenk hadn't hit a field goal attempt as the game entered its late stage. But when NDSCS made a run and cut the Lake Region lead to four points, Schlenk called for the ball and drained a 3-point shot with 1:30 remaining.

"I hadn't been shooting very well,'' Schlenk said. "But you have to have confidence. You go into slumps. But shooters have to shoot. You always have to think the next shot is going in. You'll have your three-putt holes, or your 0-for-3, -4, or -5 games, but you have to have confidence.

"Danny says we're all shooters. He's pulled me out of games and told me I better shoot and not pass up a good shot."

The Royals average eight 3-point baskets a game. Kennedy Henningsgard (88 treys, 17 ppg) leads the way, though Schlenk (7.9 ppg, 70 treys) is the most accurate on the team, hitting 38.7 percent. Mackenzie Irwin (7.9 ppg, 32 treys) and Helen Schuster (4.3 ppg, 26 treys) also are part of the long-range attack.

"We look inside first to Kristal Flowers (12 ppg) and she carries the load in the post," Mertens said. "But we have shooters who can stretch a defense out.

"Kelsey has been our most consistent 3-point shooter. She's a dead-eye shooter. She doesn't shoot enough. I have to get on her to shoot more, that that's what she was recruited to do."

The Lady Royals have a big regional look.

The starting lineup consists of Schlenk, Henningsgard (Buxton), Jadyn Fee (Devils Lake), Shaina Stevenson (Borup) and Flowers (Collins, Miss.). Off the bench are Hannah Swartz (Park River), Chania Scherr (Carrington), Cassidy Nelson (West Fargo) and Irwin and Schuster, who were high school teammates at Midway-Minto.

"We take a lot of pride in doing what we've done with Minnesota and North Dakota kids,'' Mertens said. "(Former coach) Duane Schwab laid the foundation for that. I'm just trying to keep what he did going.

"We look for the blue-collar kids who work hard on defense. That's what we find around here. Our defensive average (60 ppg) is pretty good for our level."

The Lady Royals are in the national tournament for the third consecutive season.