The St. Edmond girls basketball program has carved quite a niche for itself in the North Central Conference.
The fifth-ranked Gaels are more than ready to take their act to a bigger stage this time around.
If it's possible to be simultaneously unassuming and elite, head coach Scott Messerly's squad has done it over the course of the last five years. For instance, did you know that St. Edmond is now 93-12 overall and 80-8 in league play during that period of time? The Gaels are on the verge of their third consecutive NCC championship, and they've lost just three times in 55 tries during this run of dominance.
Regionally speaking of course, fans are well aware of St. Edmond's steady hand. An appearance in the state tournament - where the Gael girls haven't been since making their lone appearance in 1977-78 - has eluded Messerly through the years, though, and the shadow cast by the success of the boys program is a long one.
What could be different - and that much more special - about this particular group?
For as good as St. Edmond has been in its last two NCC title campaigns, these Gaels are performing at an entirely different offensive level. Two years ago, St. Edmond shot 43 percent from the field as a team. Last winter, that number rose to 46 percent.
This season? A 53 percent clip to date - the second-highest accuracy rate in the entire state, regardless of class.
Typically at the 2A level, a contender has one or possibly two offensive catalysts. St. Edmond legitimately features three, led by arguably the best backcourt tandem around in juniors Anna Yung and Jaci Stumpf.
Yung averaged 14.4 points and made 49 percent of her field goal attempts a year ago. This season, she's at 18.3 and 53 percent, respectively, blossoming into an all-state caliber player.
Stumpf was solid as a sophomore, offering the Gaels scoring (8.8 points per game), passing (5.2 assists) and defense (3.5 steals) from the point guard position. She's ascended in all three categories as a junior, checking in at 11.7, 7.9 and 3.6, respectively.
Huss, one of only two seniors on the roster, has 862 points and 540 rebounds in her three-year varsity career. The steady 6-foot forward is currently averaging a double-double at 17.9 points and 10.3 rebounds, while shooting 53 percent - like Yung, marked improvement from last season.
For the first time in a long time, St. Edmond has also been given a relatively-favorable postseason assignment. The Gaels' region does feature the likes of Des Moines Christian (15-4) and Van Meter (13-5), but they're still the only ranked squad of the 12 in the field.
St. Edmond could also play both its quarterfinal and semifinal contests at home, with a potential regional championship game in Boone on Feb. 24. That's a much different path than in years past, when Messerly's teams weren't exactly treated well by bracketologists despite their consistent level of success.
Messerly, who is 146-49 overall in nine seasons at the helm, isn't about to put the cart in front of the horse. He's focusing on the here and now, as are his players. The Gaels know not to look ahead at tournament time - a kind of humility and perspective rarely possessed by legitimate contenders.
Are all the stars aligned for this program to finally break through in prime time? Stay tuned. In the meantime, the St. Edmond girls remain one of Iowa's best kept secrets.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at email@example.com