2019-20 RECORD: 22-4, 12-2 Gopher (T-1st).
LAST GAME: 58-46 win against Heritage Christian Academy in the Class A state quarterfinals.
Last March, the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown girls basketball team was in the midst of its best season in program history.
Then, as the Buccaneers were preparing to head to their Class A state semifinal against Minneota, the tournament was canceled. Soon after, all sports were shut down for the rest of the school year.
Now, W-E-M is preparing for its first day of practice Jan. 4 with four starters off last year's team returning and a goal to make this season last as long as possible.
"Whatever we get for a season and an end of a season, we'll take it as it comes to us," W-E-M coach Ty Kaus said. "I think as we look into it our expectation is to be in a position to put us back right where we were last year."
The Buccaneers did graduate a pair of senior centers in Payten Polzin and Trista Hering from last year's group that split the Gopher Conference title with Medford and claimed the program's first-ever section title, but otherwise the nucleus of last year's squad is back for another run this winter.
Senior point guard Brielle Bartelt averaged 16.3 points and 3.4 assists a game last year, both of which were team highs. She also made 36.8% of her 3-pointers, and is one of three returning players to shoot at least 36% from deep and one of seven returning players to convert at least 30% of their 3-point opportunities.
Bartelt will be joined on the outside by seniors Ellie Ready (9 points a game, 36 3-point shooting percentage) and Kylie Pittmann (7.8 points a game, 33.8 3-point shooting percentage).
W-E-M's second returning double-digit scorer is senior Toryn Richards, who averaged 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists a contest playing on the wing.
"Toryn will play a little bit more in the post (this year)," Kaus said. "She played mainly on the wing last year, but she's our tallest player, so she's going to have to probably play a little bit more inside this year, while also being able to utilize her versatility."
Another primary option to replace the combination of Hering and Polzin inside is 5-foot-7 senior Lindsay Condon.
"She's a little undersized in the post, but she works extremely hard and battles with anybody and is very tough inside," Kaus said.
Last year, Condon operated as the first player off the bench for the Buccaneers, but due to the presence of either Hering or Polzin on the court at the same time as her — and W-E-M's offense that utilizes four players outside the paint — she rarely had the opportunity to play as a true post.
One of those chances came early in the season, when Hering missed a game with a sprained ankle and Condon slid into the starting lineup to lead the team in rebounding.
Condon did not start the year as W-E-M's first option off the bench, however. That was initially guard Autumn Taylor, a senior this year who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season.
"It'll be nice to get her back and work her back into the fold a little bit," Kaus said.
That process will begin Jan. 4, the first day teams around the state will be allowed to conduct their first in-person practices of the season.
"Is there a way to put that excitement into words? We're excited," Kaus said. "It feels like it's been forever. It's been since March 13 since we've really been in the gym together, since there wasn't a ton we could do this summer."