Thanks to a 16-0 start (including 11-0 in the Gopher Conference), the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown girls basketball team has been in control of its own destiny for most of the season.
The Bucs stayed perfect until they lost a non-conference game at Belle Plaine Jan. 20, but didn’t hit their first true bumpy stretch until the end of last month, starting when Hayfield came to Waterville and pulled off a 44-36 upset Jan. 31.
While WEM then lost another non-conference game to St. Peter, the loss that really hurt was the 57-43 loss at Medford last Friday. Just like that, Medford had pulled even with WEM at the top of the conference standings, and what’s more is that Blooming Prairie was also tied for the conference lead.
Facing a must-win game against the Awesome Blossoms Tuesday, the Bucs won convincingly on the road, pushing Blooming Prairie down to second and setting themselves up nicely to claim at least a share of the Gopher Conference championship.
WEM and Medford head into Friday night tied for first place, but WEM gets United South Central (2-20 overall, 1-12 Gopher Conference) at home, whereas Medford hosts Blooming Prairie (18-4, 10-3 Gopher Conference).
In short, if the Bucs win, they’ll claim at least a share of the conference championship. If they lose, they could still claim a share of the conference championship, but only if Blooming Prairie beats Medford.
The best-case scenario, of course, would be for WEM to win on Friday and for Blooming Prairie to top Medford, which would allow the Bucs to claim the conference championship outright.
“It’s nice to be in these types of games this time of year,” WEM coach Ty Kaus said. “As a coach, that’s what you want: you want to be playing tough teams as you get ready for playoff time, and fortunately we’ve put ourselves in a position where if we take care of business Friday night, then we at least guarantee ourselves a share of the conference championship.”
The Bucs last won the Gopher Conference following the 2015-16 season. NRHEG dominated the conference for the next couple of seasons, and Medford surged to the top last year when it went 14-0 in conference play.
The Tigers returned most of their lineup this year, and many saw them as the favorite to repeat as conference champions, but Kaus and the Bucs knew they had a pretty special team as well.
“One of the goals we had coming into this year was to win our conference, and so if we can get that taken care of, that’ll be the first box we check,” added Kaus. “When you finish strong and have a chance to win a conference championship, it’s something that’s pretty special.”
The one thing that’s impressed Kaus most about his team has been their hard work ethic and their ability to battle through adversity.
“The girls have showed up every single day and they play hard,” Kaus said. “We had a little bump in the road this last week or two, but we’ve talked all year long about getting 1% better every single day, and I feel like, for the most part, we’ve done that this year. It’s a long season and you’re always going to go through peaks and valleys, but I thought we weathered the storm and now we just have to see if we can finish the season strong and head into the playoffs with momentum.”