State Girls Basketball: Winger seniors ready to make one last impression
For the past two years, Red Wing's season has come to an unceremonious end at Williams Arena with consecutive first-round losses in the Class 3A state tournament.
With that extra sense of urgency, the Wingers' trio of seniors - Tesha Buck, Macy Kelly and McKenna Schaffer - are not content with their season ending on the raised court of the University of Minnesota.
"We don't want to be done at 'The Barn' again," Kelly said. "We want to make it to the Target Center and make it to Saturday, hopefully."
In order to do so, fifth-seeded Red Wing has to go through a familiar Missota Conference foe in No. 4 seed New Prague in the first round at noon today at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
"It's kind of the storybook ending when you look at the rivalry," said Wingers head coach Dave Muelken. "It's a great opportunity for the seniors. They've been battling them since seventh grade."
Before this season, the only time 10th-ranked Red Wing was able to shake off the Trojans during the senior trio's careers was on March 11, 2011, when the Wingers defeated New Prague in the Section 1AAA championship for Buck, Kelly and Schaffer's first state berth. Playing for the varsity as seventh graders, Buck and Kelly went a combined 1-13 against the Trojans prior to this season. Schaffer joined Red Wing as a freshman.
It wasn't until this season when Red Wing found success against New Prague, sweeping the regular-season series with a 61-51 win at New Prague on Jan. 8, and a 57-48 victory in Red Wing on Feb. 5.
"It's definitely going to push us now that it's like, 'OK, we can do this, we've beat them twice,'" Schaffer said. "We're not going to be as down like it was playing the No. 1."
It was fitting to the seniors that their first-round matchup comes against such a heated rival.
"It was bound to happen with our rivalry and with everything going on and our history with New Prague," said Kelly, who averages 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
By the same token, Buck knows this game is far removed from the regular-season tilts between the 10th-ranked Wingers and 7th-ranked Trojans.
"The conference part of the season is done," said Buck, who averaged a team-leading 23.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2012-13.
"It's playoff time; it's go time now. Whatever happened in conference time, we let that go. It's 0-0 now; it's just another game for us."
Meanwhile, the Trojans have their own group of seniors looking to advance after a three-year hiatus from the state tournament. The seniors pacing New Prague's attack are guard Annie Dittberner and post Lexi Ruehling. Kelly will keep her focus on Ruehling, while Schaffer and the rest of the rest of the Red Wing back court will have their undivided attention on Dittberner.
"My goal is to not let her touch the ball; it's a big goal, but I'm going to try my best," Schaffer said. "I have to have a hand in her face all the time because she's a good shooter."
In a bit of a twist, rivals will be united at the College of St. Benedict's next fall as Kelly and Dittberner will both play collegiately for the Blazers. In fact, the two will be roommates.
"It's kind of fun," Kelly said of playing her future teammate. "It's basketball and we both love it."
Buck, Kelly and Schaffer get one last go-around at the state tournament. And starting with New Prague on Wednesday, the goal becomes getting out of the first round in their final try.
"We just remind the whole team, all three of us, that the season is kind of coming down and we can't take any game for granted," Buck said. "Just make sure we bring it and leave it on the floor in practice and every single game."