About the only letter missing from the name Zumbrota-Mazeppa Cougars is V.
The Pequot Lakes Patriots would like to keep it that way, and in the process add an L to the southern Minnesota team when they square off at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Class 2A state quarterfinals at Williams Arena.
This is the fifth state appearance for the Patriots. They knocked off Hawley in the Section 8-2A championship game 55-52 in triple overtime to return to state after last year’s one-and-done experience.
Pequot is riding an eight-game winning streak and would like a chance to play three games at state.
“I won’t say that this team is fearless, but I like the way the girls are playing right now,” said Pequot head coach Jon Dale. “They’re not afraid to shoot the ball.
“They have a lot of faith in Mattie (Lueck) and she is still so unselfish. If someone wants to box-and-1, or triangle-and-2 or do some crazy defense against us, Mattie passes the ball so well that it doesn’t hurt us. I don’t think our girls are playing afraid right now.”
Lueck, the lone returning starter from last year’s team, leads Pequot with 19.2 points per game. She’s also averaging 7.1 rebounds to go with 147 assists, 89 blocked shots and 76 steals. Kayla Miller is next with 13.9 points, Megan Hogan is averaging 9.7 points and Vanessa Lane follows with 8.5.
Lane is also securing 5.3 rebounds followed by Rachel Mott’s 4.6 boards.
Pequot is averaging 65 points a game, but looked comfortable slowing things down to win the Northwestern Subsection and section championships. Dale hopes to speed things back up for the state quarterfinal.
“When we saw them we noticed they run pretty well and that concerns us because we’ve struggled getting back defensively,” Cougars head coach Scott Paukert said of the Patriots.
“The other thing, by our stats, they had 17 offensive rebounds in the second half and the overtimes,” he added. “I am concerned with how well they hit the glass, especially on the offensive end. We’re going to have to do a good job on the boards. That and we’ll have to contain Lueck. We don’t want her going off.”
The Cougars average 55.2 points per game and allow 49.9. Z-M got hot at the right time as it’s riding a seven-game winning streak. The Cougars began the season 2-6.
“We had two of our starters out all of last season,” Paukert said. “Our best player, Ashley Hinsch, who was our most valuable player as a freshman and sophomore, was out all of last year with shoulder surgery. Another starter Laura Brunner was out last year with a knee injury. It was hard to get back into it after sitting a whole year.
“I never thought we would be 4-8. I knew we had the ability to play with anyone and it started clicking in mid-January.”
Hinsch, who set single-season school records for points (447) and assists (122), leads the Cougars with 15.9 points a game to go with 5.5 rebounds. Brunner is averaging 9.2 points and 3.0 rebounds. Amber Jentsch is tallying 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds a game.
Z-M knocked of the West Subsection 1-2A’s top-seed Pine Island 45-37. Then it was second-seeded Stewartville’s turn to fall 53-45 in the subsection championship. The Cougars eliminated Chatfield 56-52 to advance to the program’s first state tournament.
“We lost to Pine Island twice during the season,” Paukert said. “They’re six miles away from us and after that second time we felt like if we got a shot at them again, we could play with them. When we were down two with five seconds left, we got the offensive rebound and put it in to send it into overtime. We just cruised from there. After that game we knew could do this.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.