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Tom Mix, Published March 19 2014

Offseason program provides a boost for Central Cass athletics

Casselton, N.D. - A week ago, the Central Cass girls basketball team trailed by 16 points in the second half of its Region 1 semifinal against Fargo Oak Grove.

The No. 8-ranked Squirrels were on the ropes, but the deficit was not too big to overcome. Central Cass escaped with the win and two days later stamped a ticket to this weekend’s North Dakota Class B state tournament with a 56-51 win over Fairmount-Campbell-Tintah.

Central Cass plays Watford City at 8:15 p.m. today in the quarterfinals at the Fargodome.

The comeback in the semifinals was a big talker, but it didn’t surprise Central Cass football coach Patrick Metzger at all.

Metzger organizes a co-ed offseason strength and conditioning program at the school that many members of the girls basketball team loyally participate in.

Last summer, Metzger introduced mental toughness exercises to the program – the kind designed to prepare athletes on how to react to being down late in a game.

Four days each week from May to August athletes congregate at the school to sharpen their overall athletic technique, which helps considering 12 of the 13 varsity basketball players play two or more sports.

“When we begin the program, I tell every athlete we are not going to train you to specialize in one sport,” Metzger said. “We train the overall athlete.”

Metzger’s offseason program was started in 2008. That year, 15 girls participated. But today that number has doubled to 30, according to Metzger’s records.

Performance has spiked as well. In the six years prior to the program, Central Cass had a total of 10 athletic programs turn in top-eight state finishes – three of which were girls programs. In the six years since the program was installed, Central Cass has had 22 top-eight state finishes, with eight belonging to girls programs.

Senior post player Faith Dooley – a University of North Dakota volleyball signee – is a longtime participant.

“When I was a freshman, I had no muscle, so it has made a huge difference in my sports,” said Dooley, who averages 21 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.

“They all want to do well in everything they do,” Central Cass head coach Ryan Mears said of his Squirrels squad, which is packed full of multi-sport athletes. “What they do in the offseason is a big sacrifice. They give up a lot of time, but they have seen the rewards.”

Central Cass has played in the last seven Region 1 championship games and has made it to state four times in the last five seasons.

“We all have been playing basketball and other sports together since we were young and as a result we have a lot of chemistry,” said senior guard Kirby Camas, who is averaging 6.4 points and 3.1 assists per game. “We all work together very well.”

The Squirrels four senior starters – Dooley, Camas, Abigail Cramer, and Dallas Goettle – have participated in three sports at Central Cass, and all four played on the volleyball team that made the Region 1 title game last fall.

“Being in those other sports and participating in those big games, you know what your mindset has to be,” said Cramer, who averages 12.3 points per game. “Some of us all play the same sports, so we have been with the same people for a long time. You know how everyone is going to react.”

Central Cass got all the way to the championship game last year, but fell to Minot Ryan.

The Squirrels still feature a balanced offense with Dooley producing inside and guards responsible for creating on the perimeter.

“Our diversity has helped us this year,” Goettle said. “We have Faith (Dooley) who is 6-foot-3, but we have guards that are 5-foot-5, so it helps having players with different assets on the team.”

“Last year started as a rebuilding season, but by the end of the season we were where we wanted to be,” Dooley added. “This year was the same thing. We lost some great players, but we definitely wanted to get back.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562