For New England, reaching state tournament is ‘dream come true’

NEW ENGLAND — The party didn’t stop after the post-game celebration.

In New England, the revelry for winning the Region 7 boys basketball championship game last Thursday night in Dickinson lingered until the team and fans got home. Then it spilled over onto the city’s Main Street, led by fire trucks blasting sirens, a stream of cars honking horns, and the hoots and hollers of fans in this town of about 650 people relishing something that hasn’t occurred in nearly a generation.

New England, with only 69 kids in high school, will be both the smallest school and community participating in this year’s Class B state tournament, which begins today at the Bismarck Event Center.

“For us, this is the ultimate,” said Daryl Jung, the school’s longtime athletic director. “It’s actually a dream come true.”

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COLLISION COURSE: No. 1 Beulah and No. 3 Trinity seem destined to meet again for title, but underdogs aren’t afraid to bite back

All winter, the question has lingered throughout southwest North Dakota.

“Who do you think is going to win Region 7 boys basketball tournament, Beulah or Dickinson Trinity?”

We could be five days from finding out that answer.

Or, who knows? An upset of classic proportions could be set to play out on the Knights of Columbus Activities Center floor during this week’s tournament.

Still, any way you slice it, the Region 7 Tournament goes through the No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Beulah. With many of its main components back from last season, the Miners are undefeated at 21-0 and on a 37-game win streak dating back to Jan. 10, 2012, when it lost to Trinity in the regular season. The Titans want to be the team that doesn’t let that streak reach 40.

It has been four years since anyone other than Beulah or Trinity represented Region 7 at the state tournament and there are six teams in this tournament who don’t plan on being the proverbial red carpet to the Minot State Dome for either team.

District 13 champion Heart River is chief among them. The Cougars upset Beulah in the 2011 region semifinals before losing to Trinity in the title game. In 2012, their season was cut short again by the Titans — this time in the semifinals. With a senior-heavy group that has been building to this week for three seasons, Heart River sure isn’t going to back down without a fight. Neither will Mott-Regent or Hazen, for that matter.

The District 13 runner-up Wildfire are led by senior guard Taylor Zentner, Region 7’s leading scorer at 21.3 points per game. Hazen, the No. 3 seed behind Beulah and Trinity in District 14, follow one of the state’s best all-around athletes in senior guard Stetson Carr. And don’t forget the underdogs. New England and Richardton-Taylor each have seven seniors on the roster and each boasts one of the region’s best scorers.

Raiders junior Lane Voltz (19.2 points per game) and Tigers senior Levi Hollinger (19.1) have ranked among the top five scorers in Region 7 much of the season.

Hettinger-Scranton has just two seniors — including difference-making center Stephen Kristy — and a talented group of underclassmen that have quietly improved throughout the season to a point where they are relied upon to take the reins in the clutch.

Whether Trinity and Beulah tip off for the title Thursday night or if a dark horse finds a way to stick its nose into the mix, this season’s Region 7 Tournament is bound to be memorable.
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Hollinger a quiet star for New England

New England guard Levi Hollinger, shown Jan. 6, 2012, during a game against New Town at the New England High School gymnasium, was never the Tigers boys basketball team’s first option until this season. As a senior, he is averaging 19.4 points per game as he tries to lead the Tigers back to the Region 7 Tournament.

When Levi Hollinger moved to North Dakota in the fifth grade, he said he didn’t even like basketball. It took his new classmates in New England to convince him he should try playing.

“Everybody wanted me to go out, so I tried it and it worked out good and I loved it ever since,” Hollinger said.

Today, who knows where the Tigers would be without him?

Described by teammates as a dedicated and relentless player, Hollinger has been the engine driving the New England boys basketball team this season.

For two seasons, he was a role player behind the trio of Kaine Hanson, Clarence Binstock and Nick Wolf and, while on teams that were momentarily ranked in the Class B poll and won the District 13 championship in 2011, was never regarded by opponents as the player they had to stop.

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GRUNT WORK: Senior Isiah Binstock quietly averaging a double-double for No. 3-ranked Titans

Dickinson Trinity senior Isiah Binstock is self-sufficient on the basketball court.

Most plays go through him, but only few are run with him as the primary option to score.

Instead, the 6-foot-3 forward gets many of his points through hard-work beneath the basket.

“The thing I like is he does all the grunt work,” Trinity head coach Gregg Grinsteinner said. “When you have a kid like that, he doesn’t need to shoot the ball. He’ll get his on the offensive end. That’s why he’s averaging a double-double right now.”

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Night Hawks’ senior Kristy relishing leadership role

Stephen Kristy is in an unenviable role.

Sure, he’s the Hettinger-Scranton boys basketball team’s first option to score and grab rebounds. The Night Hawks’ defense revolves around him too. But Kristy is also charged with shepherding a talented, yet very young team on which he is one of two seniors. And it doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

“I kind of like the role of leadership,” he said.
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