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On its way to its first-ever state tournament appearance last year, the Wisconsin Dells girls basketball team used its defense to spur its offense.

It took some time, but eventually the Chiefs used that same formula to pull away from Westby for a season-opening 55-41 win on Thursday at Wisconsin Dells High School. Senior Katelyn Meister scored a game-high 26 points, including 15 in the second half, to help Wisconsin Dells start its quest to return to the Resch Center on a high note.

“We knew going into it that it was our first game and it was going to be a little ugly, it usually is with just meshing together a new team, whether it’s new components, new starters or new groups,” Meister said. “I feel like we kind of anticipated it would be rough to start, but you just have to push through the rough patches and we knew we would work it out.”

That rough start included a scoreless drought over the opening 3 minutes, 40 seconds of the Chiefs (1-0), until a hook shot from Meister made 3-2. The Norsemen (0-2) extended its lead to 8-4 after a 3-pointer from McKenna Manske before back-to-back steals and baskets from Meister and senior Bethany Smith knotted things at 8 with 12 minutes left in the first half.

A pull-up jumper from Westby’s Macy Stellner gave the Norsmen a short-lived 10-8 advantage before Wisconsin Dells took the lead for good. The Chiefs responded with an 8-0 run, including a pair of baskets from Meister off of steals, to take a 16-10 lead.

“When we put pressure on them, it sped them up to get turnovers,” Smith said.

Westby hung around, cutting the lead down to one at 20-19 after a short jumper from Alayna Winterfield before Meister canned a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Chiefs into the break up 23-19. Looking to build off its small cushion, Wisconsin Dells came out of the break strong, starting the second half on a 14-0 run over the first 4:22.

After a layup from Meister off the inbounds play, Smith got a runner to fall before senior Chloe Flock hit a long 2-pointer to make it 29-19. Meister added a putback before Smith, who scored 11, hit one of two free throws before back-to-back steals led to a layup and corner 3-pointer from Meister before Westby called timeout trailing 37-19.

“It was huge. We had a great talk at halftime; the leaders spoke up and said we need better effort, better defense,” Wisconsin Dells coach Bob Buss said. “We had the out of bounds play; got a bucket right away and that helped quite a bit.”

“It gives us momentum to step it up,” Smith added.

The lead never dipped back into single digits, as the Chiefs built the advantage up to a game-high 20 points as a 3-pointer from senior Grace Myklebust made it 46-26 with 5:40 remaining. The lead again hit 20 after a layup off a steal from sophomore Kayla Gray made it 52-32 with just over three minutes left as time eventually expired.

Behind Meister, a Michigan Tech commit, and Smith, Myklebust added seven points, while Gray finished with four and Flock chipped in two. Buss said that getting more scorers onto the stat sheet will be crucial for the Chiefs this season.

“We know Kate is going to score, we know teams are going to take her away and we just need to find a couple more consistent scorers,” he said. “In practice, they’re feeling together; they do a lot of things together and offensively we just need to find a bit more consistent shooting.”

Along with more consistent shooting, Buss said the Chiefs will have to improve to finish on the glass and in learning their new zone defense. Despite those areas of improvement, Buss was pleased with the team’s effort in the season-opening win, and Meister knows that the Chiefs will need more of it to be successful down the road.

“I feel for sure the first half humbled us, but winning was really important,” she said. “We’re going to miss the girls that left, and knowing that we can make it work and believing is always the first step.”

Westby 19 22 — 41

Wisconsin Dells 23 32 — 55

WESTBY — Stellner 3 0-0 8, Bishop 2 0-0 4, Griffin 1 0-0 2, Manske 15, Hebel 4 0-2 8, Winterfield 2 0-2 4. Totals 17 0-4 41.

WISCONSIN DELLS — Flock 2 0-0 4, Meister 12 0-1 26, Pfeiffer 1 0-0 2, Myklebust 2 2-2 7, Gray 2 1-2 5, Smith 4 3-4 11. Totals 23 6-9 55.

3-point goals — WBY 7 (Stellner 2, Manske 5), WD 3 (Meister 2, Myklebust 1). Total fouls — WD 11, WBY 11.

Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.