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Chris Murphy, Published January 21 2014

No. 1 Fergus Falls stays perfect with win over Hawley in girls bball

Hawley, Minn.

For the first week, the scoreboard at Fergus Falls (Minn.) girls basketball practice showed a 79-78 loss. The Otters had lost and they hadn’t even started practicing.

The scoreboard was a reminder of the double-overtime loss in the first round of the Minnesota Class 3A state tournament to Monticello. It was their only loss of last season and a reminder of a game none of the girls would forget.

“That’s what I wanted them to think about and what our mindset needs to be come March, but what it also has to be in November,” Fergus Falls coach Brad Strand said. “It’s a great motivator.”

For Fergus Falls, a solid record in the regular season is not the main goal. With five seniors starting and 46 straight regular-season wins – after a 68-27 win over Hawley on Tuesday – the Otters know their redemption rests in the postseason.

“It was really motivating for us to see that score,” said senior forward and University of Minnesota-Duluth commit Anna Monke, who had 15 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks Tuesday. “We know we can do better at the next level. Some of us are crazy excited to get to the playoffs.”

Last season, ranked No. 1 from Day 1, Fergus Falls took a 29-0 record into the state tournament, where it was given the No. 3 seed, and fell in the first round 79-78 in double overtime to Monticello. Adding a year to the pain hasn’t made it easier to deal with for the Otters (13-0).

“We have that game in the back of our head,” said senior point guard Brianna Rasmusson, who had 12 points and 10 assists Tuesday. “We know where we want to go and every game we get closer. Last year’s game was motivation.”

Outside of a 62-51 win over Alexandria, no team has come within 20 points of Fergus Falls. Led by Monke, Rasmusson and University of North Dakota commit Bailey Strand, the Otters have beaten teams by an average of more than 35 points.

Monke is averaging more than 15 points and seven rebounds a game. Rasmusson is averaging more than 11 points and nine assists a game, along with nearly four steals and five rebounds a game. Strand is netting over 20 points a game.

“I’ve seen so much improvement from everyone over the summer,” Rasmusson said. “I still think we’re getting better, so it’s going to be fun to see where we are at the end of the season.”

Tuesday, Fergus Falls left no doubt, opening the game with a 16-0 run and leaving Hawley (6-6) scoreless for more than six minutes to start. The Otters took a 46-13 lead into halftime against the Nuggets, who were the last team to beat the Otters in a regular-season game on Jan. 24, 2012.

“When we think about last year, it stings all of us,” said Bailey Strand, who had 13 points Tuesday. “I don’t want to let it happen again.”

Last season was not the only state-tournament heartache Fergus Falls has felt. In 2008, the Otters lost in the opening round 49-44 in overtime and in 2012 they lost 59-51 to DeLaSalle in the state semifinals, eventually finishing third. The Otters are done with the past and focused on getting their first state title.

“That game is definitely motivation, but we don’t sit and dwell on it,” Brad Strand said. “We’re dealing with one game at a time, trying to get better right now. We’re enjoying the journey, but trying to continue to improve.”

F (13-0): Strand 5 2-2 13, Monke 6 2-2 15, Rasmusson 5 0-0 12, Smith 2 0-0 5, Traiser 3 1-1 7, Sawtell 3 1-1 8, Reinertson 1 0-0 2, Seland 1 0-0 2, Johnson 0 2-2 2, Kotschevar 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 8-8 68.

H (6-6): Noreen 3 3-3 10, Olson 2 0-0 5, Laddusaw 1 0-0 2, Hovelson 1 0-0 2, Mattfeld 1 2-2 4, Groth 0 2-2 2, Kluck 1 0-0 2. Totals 9 7-7 27.

Halftime: F 46, H 13. 3-pointers: Strand 1, Monke 1, Smith 1, Sawtell 1, Olson 1, Noreen 1. Total fouls: F 12, H 10. Rebounds: F 23 (Monke 10), H 12 (Olson and Mattfeld 3).

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548