The Waconia girls’ basketball postseason ground to a sudden halt on Feb. 26 as the No. 4 Wildcats were upset by the No. 5 Holy Family Fire in a 68-56 contest at Waconia High School.
“The Holy Family game was something of a microcosm of our season,” head coach Carl Pierson said. “We dug ourselves a double digit hole, fought back, but we couldn’t quite finish the rally.”
Rebounds and free throws were key for the Fire in the first half, gathering an 11-point 39-28 halftime lead. While Waconia pulled down eight offensive boards in the first half, the ‘Cats fail to capitalize on any of them. On the flipside, the Fire turned their nine offensive rebounds into 14 points. In free throws, the Wildcats were 2-3, while the Fire were 9-14.
The Wildcats started one of their signature comebacks in the second half, closing to within two points (52-50) after 13 minutes. But a breakaway layup for Holy Family would catapult the Fire to victory, as the ‘Cats never could catch up.
“You have to give the Fire credit,” Pierson said. “When we cut into the lead they always answered with a big basket or big play.”
Sophomore Anna Schmitt and senior Caroline Jacobs led the Wildcat scorers with 18 and 12 points, respectively. Junior Nicole Dressen netted eight, while junior Miranda Schultz, and seniors Fiona DeMario, Morgan Iverson, and Stephanie Dressen each scored four. Senior Sarah Christians had two points.
The Wildcats made 36 percent of their shots, compared to Holy Family’s 43 percent.
Schmitt and Steph Dressen each grabbed seven rebounds to lead the ‘Cats, who totaled 29 boards on the night. The Fire snagged 35 rebounds.
Around the section, No. 1 Richfield defeated No. 8 Mound-Westonka 97-40, No. 2 Chaska defeated No. 7 Orono 51-49, and No. 3 Benilde-St. Margaret’s won over No. 6 Holy Angels 68-55 all on Feb. 26. In section quarterfinal action on March 2, Richfield defeated Holy Family 83-47, while Chaska took down Benilde-St. Margaret’s 69-41.
The Wildcats finished the season with an 18-9 record. They won their second consecutive Wright County Conference title with an overall record of 13-2, 10-0 in the WCC – East division. The team saw an eight game win streak between Dec. 29 and Jan. 29, defeating many WCC teams as well as Watertown, Wisc. and Shakopee.
Pierson said it was fun to represent Minnesota by defeating teams from Wisconsin and South Dakota this season. Another highlight was defeating the Wildcats of New London-Spicer in a 58-53 contest on Jan. 18, just one of New London-Spicer’s four losses this year.
Waconia finished the season ranked fourth in the state in scoring, as the ‘Cats averaged 65.9 points per game, including three 80-plus point games.
This season’s Wildcats were known for their frantic comebacks, after dropping to sometimes double-digit deficits. Game after game saw a late Wildcat rally to pull off some spectacular victories for the team. Unfortunately in some games, the team was unable to overcome the holes it had dug.
Waconia struggled early in the season, starting 2-4, and Pierson said the team struggled to define itself on defense.
“With the exception of a three week stretch in January we never played the tenacious team defense we want to be known for,” he said.
Pierson explained the Wildcats played the season with a target on their backs as they fought to defend their 2012 WCC title.
“When you’re defending a championship every opponent plays their best game against you and if you lose your focus for even a moment it can cost you,” he said.
With the ups and downs of the season, Pierson said the team is happy to defend its conference championship, but unsatisfied with the way some of the season played out.
“Great programs aren’t content with good,” he said. “They aspire to greatness. We will continue to have high expectations and pursue excellence.”
This year’s team says goodbye to five strong senior leaders including Sarah Christians, Fiona DeMario, Stephanie Dressen, Morgan Iverson, and Caroline Jacobs. Pierson said the two-time conference champions are a talented group that experienced a lot of success. He said while all five seniors were key to the team, Christians was the epitome of a team player.
“She was asked to play a difficult role and her selfless, team-first attitude will have a positive impact on our younger players and on our program for years to come.”
With the departure of Iverson, Jacobs, Dressen, DeMario, and Christians, it will be an open competition for spots on the team next season. Varsity regulars Nicole Dressen and Miranda Schultz will return as seniors, along with a host of others. Sophomore Anna Schmitt will return as the team’s guard and Pierson said the team in general will be very guard-heavy.
“Due to that you’ll see a very different style of play from us, but I believe it will be a very exciting style,” he said. “I can’t tell you we’ll win a third straight conference title, but I can tell you we will play an extremely fast pace and we’ll be entertaining and fun to watch.”
The team’s annual banquet will be held April 7. Look for team and All-Conference award winners in the April 11 issue.
Contact Melissa Marohl at email@example.com