The Fort Dodge girls have seen some of the best teams Class 5A has to offer this year.
The Dodgers ran into another elite foe here on Tuesday night, as sixth-ranked (5A) Waterloo West earned a 65-42 victory inside the FDSH gym.
Already this year, Fort Dodge (7-7 overall) has faced No. 3 West Des Moines Dowling, fourth-ranked Waukee, then-No. 8 Sioux City West and No. 9 Mason City. They now travel to second-rated West Des Moines Valley this Friday.
Dodger head coach Scott Timmerman wasn't afraid to admit the Wahawks (12-2) might be the best of the bunch.
"They are extremely athletic, have girls that can shoot and play tough defense," Timmerman said. "They are as good as it gets. The real deal."
Iowa State University signee Blaire Thomas led the way with 22 points, hitting all nine of her field goals. Kate Letkewicz, who has signed to play at Dartmouth College, scored 18 and Makayla Stokes added 10.
WATERLOO WEST 65, FORT DODGE 42
Fort Dodge - Lani Van Zyl 3-8 0-1 8, Mallory Kilian 0-5 2-2 2, Madi Bennett 1-7 0-1 2, Ashley Altman 3-10 1-3 9, Tiana Mericle 3-4 2-3 8, Justice Crooks 0-0 0-0 0, Lexi Astor 3-6 4-4 10, Rachel Herrington 0-0 0-0 0, Kari Grindberg 1-3 0-0 3. Totals: 14-43 9-14 42.
Waterloo West - Sammie Sproul 2-6 4-4 8, Shaina Robinson 1-2 0-0 3, Makayla Stokes 5-9 0-0 10, Kate Letkewicz 7-15 2-2 18, Blaire Thomas 9-9 2-3 22, Kortni Pabst 1-2 0-0 2, Natalie Fisher 0-3 0-0 0, Kaia Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Aliyah Robinson 0-1 0-0 0, Tahya Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Allison Trenkamp 0-1 0-0 0, Sydney McFarland 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 25-50 10-11 65.
Quarter scores: Waterloo West led 17-6, 42-15, 59-21. Three-point goals: Fort Dodge 5-23 (Van Zyl 2-7, Kilian 0-3, Bennett 0-3, Altman 2-7, Astor 0-1, Grindberg 1-2); Waterloo West 5-14 (Letkewicz 2-8, Sproul 0-2, S. Robinson 1-1, Thomas 2-2, Fisher 0-1). Total rebounds: Fort Dodge 29, Waterloo West 31. Steals: Fort Dodge 9, Waterloo West 15. Blocked shots: Fort Dodge 1. Turnovers: Fort Dodge 23, Waterloo West 13. Points off turnovers: Fort Dodge 8, Waterloo West 21. Team fouls: Fort Dodge 12, Waterloo West 17.
Waterloo West played without the services of Haley Puk, who will attend Bowling Green State University in the fall. She had her thumb wrapped and sat dressed on the bench.
"Thomas is a very physical player and she gave us trouble all night," Timmerman said. "They are quick and forced a lot of our turnovers, but we also shot ourselves in the foot from the start."
Fort Dodge, coming off a road victory over Urbandale last Friday, committed eight first quarter turnovers and had 18 by halftime. The Wahawks took full-advantage, leading 42-15 after 16 minutes of play.
Of those 18 mistakes, West was able to score 19 points. Thomas had 15 and Letkewicz 12 by the break.
"We have been such a hot and cold team this year," Timmerman said. "It's been frustrating because it doesn't seem to matter if we are playing a ranked team or not, or if we are playing at home or on the road.
"If we come out and hit our first shot or two, the momentum starts going for us. But if we come out like we did (Tuesday) and have a few turnovers, it goes in that direction."
Lexi Astor led the Dodgers with 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals off the bench. Ashley Altman contributed nine and Lani Van Zyl eight, but Fort Dodge shot just 33-percent from the field and went 5-for-23 from the three-point line.
After falling behind by as many as 41 points in the second half, the Dodgers strung together a handful of mini-scoring bursts. They actually outscored the Wahawks 21-6 in the fourth.
"That was a positive," Timmerman said. "We've had games this year where we hit that 35-point mark and things get out of hand from that point on. We didn't let that happen and we kept fighting hard.
"We have seven games left to get some momentum going heading into the postseason, and that's what we need to work on."
Fort Dodge plays its next three on the road, where they are 4-3 on the year, before closing out the regular season with four home dates. Regional pairings are expected to be announced early next week.
Waterloo West, who's only losses this season are to No. 1 Iowa City West and Cedar Rapids Washington, has a pair of former Dodger standouts working as assistant coaches in Zach and Baileigh O'Brien.
Baileigh O'Brien finished her career at FDSH as the school's fifth all-time leading scorer with over 800 points.