DES MOINES - Playing a winning brand of basketball is nothing new for the Manson Northwest Webster girls.
Headed to state for the ninth time in program history, the 15th-ranked Cougars (20-4 overall) will be put to the test by unbeaten and No. 2 Cascade (25-0) in a Class 2A quarterfinal here Monday. Tip is set for 5 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
This year's trip to Des Moines is the fifth alone since 2007 for MNW, which settled for a state runner-up effort in '10 under then-head coach and current assistant Wade Wubben. The Cougars, who also reached the state semifinals in both '08 and '09, have compiled at least 20 wins in seven of the last eight seasons.
"It's super exciting to be down (at state)," said Manson Northwest Webster head coach Bret Larson, who owns a 59-12 mark in his three years at the helm. "It's one of those things I've dreamed about my whole life. More importantly, I'm glad the girls get the chance to experience it for themselves. We put in a lot of hard work in the summer, and it's nice to see it pay off."
Despite the loss of all-state guard and University of Northern Iowa signee Ellie Herzberg (elbow injury) back on Jan. 3, the Cougars still went 13-3 down the stretch, including regional triumphs over Belmond-Klemme (64-29), Emmetsburg (42-32) and eighth-ranked Dike-New Hartford (45-37).
"I think we've just been a very resilient team," said Larson. "After certain situations arose throughout the season, we just stuck with the same mindset. We focused on the process of getting better each day in practice and every game. If we did those things, we knew the results and wins would eventually come."
Cougars 77E-LC 23
Cougars 74Cherokee 44
Cougars 76SEW-G 26
Cougars 74East Sac 38
Cougars 78Sio. Central 43
Cougars 80Prairie?Valley 18
Cougars 42N-Fonda 53
Cougars 68OA-BCIG 36
Cougars 37SC Calhoun 31
Cougars 73WB-Mallard 13
Cougars 47Pocahontas A 56
Cougars 66SEW-G 28
Cougars 82SL?St. Mary's 50
Cougars 48Spencer 35
Cougars 62East Sac 57
Cougars 60Alta/Aurelia 33
Cougars 57N Union 32
Cougars 50SC Calhoun 58
Cougars 68Prairie Valley 18
Cougars 58Pocahontas A 65
Cougars 43Emmetsburg 28
Cougars 64B-Klemme 29
Cougars 42Emmetsburg 32
Cougars 45Dike-NH 37
Sophomore Faith Troshynski (13.1), classmate Brenna Peters (9.0) and senior Jocelyn Keller (8.2) have paced the Cougar offensive charge in the absence of Herzberg, who was averaging 25.6 points, 6.3 steals, 5.5 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game before being sidelined. Senior Hunter Jud (6.5) and freshman Cloie Herzberg (5.8) - Ellie's younger sister - are the other starters for MNW.
Troshynski, a 5-foot-9 guard, has also notched team-highs in total points (315), made field goals (111), made 3-pointers (59) and steals (55), while Keller leads the way in rebounds (159), made free throws (37) and blocks (13).
Manson Northwest Webster suffered two of its setbacks this winter to Twin Lakes Conference opponent Pocahontas Area, while also falling to league foes and fellow state qualifiers Newell-Fonda and South Central Calhoun. Aggressive defense has once again been a staple for the Cougars, who are allowing just 36.8 points a night. On 17 occasions, MNW has prevailed by double figures.
"We always know it's important to try and keep teams down around 40 points, or below about 10 a quarter," Larson said. "One thing about Ellie was she was able to create a lot of easy offense for us with all of her steals and assists. I feel like we've adjusted, though, really well without her. The thing we stressed when (Herzberg's injury) happened was we needed to have multiple players step up for us in big games. We've been able to get contributions from a lot of different people."
Senior Abbey Meyer (12.4), junior Carolyn Trumm (9.4) and senior Holly Hunt (6.1) spearhead the balanced attack for the defending 3A state semifinalist Cougars, who ousted North Cedar (43-29), West Branch (37-29) and Iowa City Regina (51-46) en route to Wells Fargo Arena. Mike Sconsa's Cascade squad surrenders only 31.2 points per contest, while never yielding more than 46 in a game this season. As a collective unit, the River Valley Conference champion Cougars are shooting just 38.9 percent from the field, including 23.6 percent behind the arc. Eight of Cascade's wins have come by eight points or less. In 2009, the Cougars were a 2A state runner-up.
"They have that state tournament experience, and are quick and athletic," said Larson of Cascade. "I know they do a very good job on the defensive end. They seem to get a lot of quality, point-blank shots.
"Starts are always huge, which was one of the big things I emphasized (in last Monday's 2A regional final). I think the team that adjusts the quickest and gets the butterflies out first in these types of (state) games will be in pretty good shape."
Larson and the Cougars are counting on another strong fan following in Des Moines.
"It's been awesome having all that support from parents, old alumni people, the community, school and staff," Larson said. "Everyone encourages you and picks you up when maybe things don't go as well. I know the girls really appreciate it."
Monday's winner moves on to face either No. 4 Hudson (23-1) or 14th-ranked Woodbury Central (21-3) in a 2A semifinal here Thursday at 11:45 a.m.