After starting the season with a 7-10 record, the Waconia boys basketball team has hit a rhythm and become a force to be reckoned with. The Wildcats head into postseason play with eight wins in their last nine games and a No. 7 ranking in Class AAA.
“It says a lot about the team,” coach Pat Hayes said. “They continue to improve and get better.”
The Wildcats lost a lot of seniors to graduation last year, returning only one starter to the squad. Waconia had to battle inexperience at the varsity level, but the ‘Cats persevered and found their way as the season progressed.
Now Waconia heads into the Section 6AAA Tournament on a roll, facing an opponent they may be favored over where once they were underdogs.
In the first meeting with Delano, Waconia was under .500 and the Tigers were ranked No. 2 in the state. The ‘Cats held a lead at half before ultimately losing 85-75 Feb. 2.
In the rematch last week, Waconia turned the tables and took the Tigers down with an 83-67 win.
“I thought we played much better defensively,” Hayes said. “We had better shot selection throughout the game.”
Once again, the Wildcats held a slim lead at the break, this time 40-37. While Waconia struggled in the second half in the prior matchup, the ‘Cats have eliminated their second half woes as of late and rushed past the Tigers by outscoring them 43-30.
Nick Fulford and Dillon Whittaker both picked up double-doubles in the win as Fulford scored 17 with 10 rebounds while Whittaker notched 16 and 12.
Charlie Gove had a team-high 20 points while also dishing out three assists. Derek Feltmann added nine points and six rebounds while Ryan Biehn picked up eight points.
After splitting the season series, the two sides meet up in the section quarterfinals March 8. Delano picked up the No. 4 seed and Waconia is the No. 5 seed. While Delano was ranked higher in both of the regular season, the ‘Cats now sit in front of the Tigers as the No. 7 ranked team with Delano at No. 8.
The winner of the first round matchup faces either No. 1 DeLaSalle or No. 8 Mound Westonka March 11.
While Waconia is playing extremely well lately, the ‘Cats still have a tall task in front of them. For the second consecutive year, Section 6AAA is the toughest in the state, featuring five top-10 teams out of the eight-team section.
“This section is brutal,” Hayes said.
Waconia 66 Holy Family 41
The Wildcats capped off the season with a March 3 win over Holy Family. Once again the defense featured a prominent role, as the ‘Cats held the Fire to 41 points.
“Our guys played well defensively all game,” Hayes said.
Carter Damlo led the ‘Cats with a hot shooting night, tallying 18 points with four three pointers and 7/11 makes from the field.