Wallen, Sabers take care of business
BISMARCK — Lexi Wallen is known around the St. Thomas More basketball program as “The Silent Assassin.”
It’s a nickname coach Chris Mennig applied to the junior who quietly goes about the business of consistently being one of the top players on a team of all-stars.
Wallen secured a spot in the school record book Thursday night, nailing a school single-game record five three-pointers (in her first five attempts) as the state’s top-ranked Class 2A girls’ team overpowered St. Joseph-Ogden 80-35 in the regional finals at Bismarck-Henning High School.
Wallen prepared for the main event by leading all competitors in the pregame three-point shooting contest.
“That got me warmed up, and I felt confident,” she said.
The previous record of four treys was shared by three players, including current assistant Brittany Einck.
“I’m surprised Brittany didn’t go out on the floor and tackle her (after the fourth),” Mennig said.
With 6-foot-4 Tori McCoy inside, STM doesn’t go into games thinking perimeter shots first. However, it is always a viable option.
“We talk about taking what the other team is giving us,” Mennig said. “We have enough weapons. We can pick and choose like that. That (shot) is in Lexi’s game, but she never forces it.”
With Purdue coach Sharon Versyp watching from a front-row bleacher seat, Wallen and sophomore McCoy were an unstoppable duo. In the three quarters they played, they teamed up for 51 of the Sabers’ 65 points while connecting on 22 of 35 field goal attempts.
Wallen had a game-high 26 points. McCoy raised her career record for double-doubles to 20 with a 25-point, 12-rebound effort. Nine of her boards were on the offensive end.
STM players smiled for the cameras while postgame pictures were taken, but there wasn’t the jubilation that comes from programs that aren’t accustomed to competing at a high level. The regional crown was the sixth in the past eight years for the Sabers, last year’s 2A state runners-up.
Part of that attitude is reflected in Mennig’s demeanor.
“That’s the business approach they have,” he said. “They still have to get better at certain things.”
The list is not long.
“I loved our emotional connect and sharing of the ball,” Mennig said. “When they’re sharing like that, it’s fun to watch.”
For the players, there’s an appreciation of the accomplishment.
“Last year was a more serious tone,” Courtney Wax said. “This year, we’re focusing on having fun through the journey.”
Wallen nailed her first trey 29 seconds into the game, and a Spartans team playing short-handed never caught up.
“We’re enjoying the moment and happy with this one,” Wallen said. “Now it’s on to the next one.”
Kassidy Duckett’s basket cut the STM lead to 3-2, but the Sabers (28-2) then went on a 28-point spree that ended at 5:08 of the second quarter when Duckett scored her second basket.
Rachel Mullen, who was cleared to play earlier this week after recovering from an ankle injury, scored all of her team-high 10 points in the second quarter for SJ-O (18-8).
McCoy blocked five shots, two on the same first-quarter possession, and the Spartans didn’t warm up, shooting 23.2 percent from the field.
“Going up against a 6-4 girl, I think it scared us,” SJ-O coach Jeff Finis said. “We missed a lot of easy shots.”