MOORHEAD — Minnesota State Moorhead is on the verge of a 20-win women's basketball season and tied for first place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with four games remaining in the regular season, yet the the Dragons don't necessarily feel like they're in prime position.
MSUM has lost three of its previous six games, including a last-second 77-74 home loss against Sioux Falls last Saturday, the team's first loss at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse this season.
"It's actually a pretty weird feeling," said Dragons senior point guard Jacky Volkert, who leads the NSIC with 4.5 assists per game. "It doesn't feel like we are tied for first. We have to put it into perspective. There is still a lot to play for."
The Dragons (19-5, 15-3) have an important two games this week, hosting St. Cloud State (14-8, 11-7) on Friday and Minnesota-Duluth (16-5, 15-3) on Saturday at Nemzek.
The MSUM-UMD game could decide who wins the overall NSIC and North Division championships.
"We're still having a great year, but it certainly doesn't feel that way because we've sort of let our guard down," Dragons head coach Karla Nelson said. "There's plenty of time to regroup."
The Dragons are in position to win the NSIC overall championship for a third consecutive season. The last team to do that was Minnesota-Duluth in 1997-98, 1998-99 and 1999-2000. MSUM is also one win away from a fourth consecutive 20-win season.
The Dragons have all North Division opponents remaining on their regular-season schedule. After the games against St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth, MSUM then plays at Minot State and the University of Mary.
"We have to finish and we have to finish stronger that I've had to finish before. It's just exciting," Volkert said. "We have a chance to win it outright and we have a chance to control our own destiny. I'm focusing on the positive."
Minnesota-Duluth has won six consecutive games heading into the weekend. The Bulldogs started that winning streak with a 69-53 home victory against the Dragons on Jan. 25. That victory also snapped a 14-game MSUM winning streak.
Including that loss at Duluth, the Dragons are 3-3 over their past six games, four of which came on the road. The Dragons have an 8-1 home record going into Friday's game against St. Cloud State.
"We have a lot of stuff than can happen in the next four games that are positives," Nelson said. "We just have to keep our focus and re-focus."
Volkert and junior forward Megan Hintz both had big games in the loss against Sioux Falls over the weekend. Volkert scored 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field and added a game-high seven assists. The 6-foot-2 Hintz had a career-high 28 points with 11 rebounds.
Anna Goodhope, however, lifted the Cougars to victory by sinking a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I think losing at home is a byproduct us not being as tough as we've been in previous years or certainly could be this year," Nelson said. "I hope we can get back to playing a little bit tougher."
Nelson likes the challenge her team faces over the next four games against St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Minot State and the University of Mary. Minnesota-Duluth is the only North Division team the Dragons have lost to this season.
"Just because of the circumstances, where everyone is sitting in league play, it's important for all teams involved," Nelson said. "That's the way it should be when you get into February."
Sophomore guard Kiley Borowicz leads the Dragons in scoring with 15.0 points per game. Hintz has 11 double-doubles and is averaging 14.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest. Volkert is averaging 12.8 points a game.
"Each player, each coach, you have to be accountable," Nelson said. "As long as you're not afraid of looking at yourself, I think you can use some of what happened to us to our advantage. I think it will be a positive. You have to weather the adversity."
The 5-foot-7 Volkert is the lone senior on the Dragons roster. This weekend will be her final two regular-season home games at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse.
"This is a huge weekend and this is the type of weekend that we play for and this is what we want to play for," Volkert said. "It's very different being a lone senior. I wouldn't say it's scary or too much to handle. I know I have a bunch of different teammates who support me as well. ... It's more exciting. We are pumped for this weekend."