Team: Waconia girls’ basketball
Head coach: Carl Pierson
Years with this team: 2
Assistant coaches: Dustin Neibauer and Anna Philp
Conference: Wright County
Section: 6AAA: Holy Angels, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Chaska, Holy Family, Mound-Westonka, Orono, and Richfield
2011-12 finish: In his inaugural season with the Wildcats, Pierson led the team to a share of the WCC title with a 15-1 conference record. Waconia was 20-9 on the season, despite beginning 0-3 and suffering three season-ending knee injuries to varsity players. The Wildcats fell in the first round of the section tournament, suffering a loss to the No. 1 seeded Richfield Spartans, who went on to finish second in the state.
Key losses: The only starting varsity members the Wildcats are missing this season are 2012 WHS graduates Lauren Deadrick and Laura Schmitt. Both were All-Conference athletes and Deadrick was also All-State Honorable Mention.
Key returnees: With only two seniors last season, the Wildcats are returning numerous varsity starters. All-Conference player Morgan Iverson returns as a senior, along with fellow seniors Caroline Jacobs (All-Conference Honorable Mention), Sarah Christians, Stephanie Dressen, and Fiona DeMario.
Juniors Miranda Schultz, Nicole Dressen, Samantha Laumann, Kaylee Vanderhoff, and Brenna Rice and sophomores Kendall Eder and Anna Schmitt, among others, will support the senior-led squad.
With so many returning faces, Pierson said the Wildcats are pretty set.
“We know what we have and what we’re capable of,” he said.
Pierson said he predicts the team will have a strong transition game out of the gate and has potential to be a good defensive team, but worries about rebounding after graduating 6-foot-2 Deadrick, who dominated the boards for the ‘Cats last season.
“We need to improve dramatically as rebounders,” he said.
Teams to beat: This season, the Wright County conference will be split into two branches of girls’ basketball. The ‘big’ schools include Waconia, Hutchinson, Delano, Holy Family, Orono, and Mound-Westonka, while the remaining WCC schools will make up the ‘small’ category. In the end, there will be two WCC titles, one for the ‘big’ schools, one for the ‘small.’
In Waconia’s division of the WCC, Pierson said Delano is a strong up and coming team who many give the ‘Cats a run for their money. He is unsure of what to expect from 2012 WCC co-champion Hutchinson, a team that graduated five seniors in 2012.
Goals: It’s no secret that the Wildcats want to defend their conference title and make a deep run into sections.
“We will be disappointed if we don’t win the conference championship and if we don’t play for the section championship,” Pierson said.
That said, Pierson also believes the team has the skills and dedication necessary for the state tournament – something that has never been achieved in the 40-plus years of Waconia girls’ basketball.
“It’s a realistic expectation,” Pierson said.
In order to get there, the ‘Cats must first make it through Section 6AAA. Pierson believes the section, regardless of class, is unquestionably the most difficult in the state. Waconia must also recover from the injuries and illness that is already affecting the team. With one player out sick, and two others recovering from injuries, Pierson joked that injury is the team’s new trend.
“Knee braces are the new [eye] black on our team,” he said. “We never get hurt in basketball practice, but doing everything else.”
First games: The Wildcats will open the season with a home tournament on Nov. 23-24. They will follow that with a string of home games against Chanhassen, Dassel-Cokato, and New Prague.