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'Well-rounded' MCM girls racking up the wins

McCook Central/Montrose's Morgan Erikson collects the basketball during a game against Crofton (Neb.) earlier this year at the Corn Palace. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

MONTROSE — The McCook Central/Montrose girls basketball team has hit its winning stride.

Fresh off winning the Big East Conference Tournament, MCM is riding an 11-game win streak and has bumped up to No. 3 in Class A seed points and in the latest South Dakota Prep Media Poll.

Only Belle Fourche and St. Thomas More have more seed points than the Fighting Cougars, who defeated Parkston 65-32 on Tuesday. MCM head coach Doug Durfee said team chemistry has played a big role in MCM's success. He noted the team lost four seniors (three starters) from last year's group that finished 18-4 and fell one game short of making the state tournament.

"I knew we had the talent and the ability to be really good, but we've come on a lot faster and came together quicker than I expected," Durfee said last week. "I was worried about that early on with new girls coming in but it's been really good. We've been a pretty well-rounded team."

Stellar play from 6-foot-2 senior standout Morgan Koepsell has powered the Fighting Cougars. Koepsell, a three-time all-state selection and Black Hill State commit, is averaging a double-double for a second straight season. She's not scoring as much as she did last year, but Durfee noted she's finding ways to make her teammates around her better.

"She's been vocal and keeping the girls' heads up," Durfee said. "When she's vocal, it reminders herself she needs to keep working and keep pushing the team forward."

Alongside Koepsell, Natalie Gottlob and Jacy Pulse have flourished, while Madisen Koepsell and Abigail Van Ruler have emerged as underclassmen to provide the team with plenty of depth. In MCM's 61-40 victory of Flandreau in the BEC championship game on Saturday, Pulse led the team with 15 points, while Gottlob added 10 points and Van Ruler tossed in nine points. Morgan Koepsell finished with nine points, nine assists and 18 rebounds as MCM recorded 27 assists in the victory.

"We are learning how to play as a team and that's big," Koepsell said last week. "There's no drama or anything and that helps."

In its final four regular season games, MCM will face three opponents with winning records, including a tough test at No. 5 West Central on Monday in Hartford. Durfee said the team needs to continue to find ways to improve. MCM hasn't reached a girls basketball state tournament as co-op. McCook Central last qualified for state in 2007.

"We are winning some big games and doing a lot of good things," Durfee said. "But there's always stuff to work on. We don't want to peak right now."

The Fighting Cougars play Garretson on Thursday in Montrose.