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Protecting the ball: Dynamic duo leads DWU backcourt

Dakota Wesleyan's Chesney Nagel (32) drives past Doane's Julia Reed (10) during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game earlier this season at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
Dakota Wesleyan's Rylie Osthus (10) goes to the basket through the Mount Marty defense including past Mount Marty's Sarah Castaneda (32) and Peyton Stolle (25) during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game on Wednesday night at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

Chesney Nagel and Rylie Osthus understand what it means to be calm under pressure.

As the primary ball handlers for the No. 12-ranked Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team, the duo is constantly under duress by opponents, and under scrutiny by head coach Jason Christensen. But with multiple years of experience and action in more than 170 games combined, Nagel and Osthus know how to make the Tigers go.

"You better take care of the ball," Nagel said with a stern tone and a laugh.

Off the court, Nagel and Osthus are full of smiles and laughs. On the court, it's strictly business. And that business-like approach has DWU leading the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.51.

"Our assist-to-turnover ratio is No. 1 in the country. People ask 'Why is that?' It's because of Chesney and Rylie," said Christensen, whose team takes its 21-4 record and six-game winning streak to Briar Cliff at 2 p.m. today in Sioux City, Iowa.

"They've done a really good job of taking care of the basketball, but not only taking care of it but getting the ball to the Brays (Amber or Ashley) or (Kynedi) Cheeseman or whoever is feeling it that game."

On the season, DWU has 495 assists (No. 2 in the nation) and 329 turnovers (fewest in the Great Plains Athletic Conference). During the team's six-game winning streak, the Tigers have had 15 turnovers or fewer. In two of the team's four losses, turnovers surpassed 17.

With six players averaging seven points or more per game and three players averaging double figures, both Osthus and Nagel aren't concerned with scoring. First and foremost, they are looking to protect the ball and find playmakers.

Christensen said along with their defensive pressure, his guards' impact doesn't always shine through in the box score.

"People always forget Nagel will have eight rebounds and seven assists and Rylie will have something similar. Those numbers get lost sometimes," Christensen said.

Osthus, a former De Smet standout, leads the team with 122 assists, averaging more than five per game, while Nagel is second with 76 assists, for more than three per game.

"We have to get the ball to our scorers and we can't do that if we turn it over," said Nagel, a Springfield native. "We have a lot of trust in our teammates. I can pass it to any one of them and not worry. It makes it easy for us."

Both Nagel and Osthus are focused on keeping the team under control, especially in the game's crucial minutes. The duo's experience and savvy showed in DWU's 63-52 victory over No. 11 Hastings on Wednesday at the Corn Palace. When the Broncos tied the game in the fourth quarter, Nagel and Osthus helped the Tigers not commit another turnover as DWU closed the contest on a 16-5 run.

"You are like floor generals," Osthus said. "Keeping everything organized. No chaos."

Final stretch

A daunting January schedule for DWU started with an 82-58 victory over then No. 6 Morningside and ended with an 82-46 thumping over in-state rival Mount Marty. In between were six road games, including a test at Division I South Dakota State, and a stretch of three games in four days. The Tigers rose to the occasion, posting an 8-1 mark with three wins over rated opponents.

"January treated us well," Christensen said. "We had a tough January grind and we did what we needed to do. It started with our defense and taking care of the basketball."

DWU enters February in third place in the GPAC, two games back from No. 1 Concordia, which the Tigers will face in the final regular season game on Feb. 17. Heading into the final five games before the postseason begins, Osthus stressed the importance of defensive intensity.

Nagel noted the Tigers are far from satisfied.

"We push each other every day in practice and that relays into our games with how hard we work," Nagel said. "There's always room to improve."