The last time Brad Strand coached a team to a perfect regular-season record he helped it to a state title.
That was in 2009 when he coached the Pelican Rapids boys team.
Four years later, Strand will try to do it again as head coach of the Fergus Falls Otters girls team.
Strand and the Otters finished a perfect regular season Thursday with a 78-42 victory over the Brainerd Warriors. Class 3A’s top-ranked Otters head into the Section 8-3A tournament 25-0.
“For us, the message we’ve sent all year is not to win all of our games, but to constantly and continuously improve,” said Strand. “That’s what I did in ‘09 with that group of Pelican guys. We never really talked about our record and we don’t here either with the girls. People talk to them about it, but we never do.
“We just want to keep getting better and I still don’t think we’ve played our best game yet this year. I think there is lots of room for improvement. But the kids have worked hard to win 25 games.”
Fergus used a balanced offensive attack and two big runs to hand the Warriors their 21st loss. Bailey Strand led the Otters with 26 points. The junior guard handled the outside, while Anna Monke and Hanna Swenson each scored 13 points in the paint. Point guard Brianna Rasmusson scored 11 and Kristin Traiser came off the bench to tally eight points. Fergus shot 46 percent from the field and held the Warriors to 28 percent shooting.
“I thought we started a little tentative and I thought Brainerd came right at us,” said Strand. “It was 14-14 and I think we started to relax and looked more natural. We missed a couple of shots early and then we went away from our game plan, which is just to play and play with instinct.”
The Otters broke open that 14-14 game with a 21-0 run. Strand scored 11 of her points in that spurt to finish with 19 first-half points. That run helped Fergus to a 44-23 halftime lead. After Brainerd’s Maria West opened the second half with a basket, Fergus went on an 18-0 run for a 58-25 lead. Swenson scored nine of her points in the second half.
West led the Warriors with 13 points. Katelyn Johnson scored nine of her 11 in the second half and Heather Fletcher scored eight despite battling foul trouble most of the second half.
“I told the girls at halftime — it was 14-14 and they went on that 27-4 run — those first 10 to 12 minutes of the game, we played our style,” said Warrior head coach Brian McAllister. “Then when we sped up and didn’t get set up on shots and started to play their game that’s when they started to open it up. Every time we rushed a shot or turned the ball over they shot a layup.
“Defensively, I thought we did a pretty good job against them. Offensively, we just didn’t take our time and we let them speed us up and that’s what took us out of our game.”
Brainerd finishes the regular season 4-21. The Warriors finished 0-8 against Section 8-4A opponents. They will likely get the No. 8 seed and travel to St. Michael-Albertville, which finished 9-0 against section teams. The Knights beat Brainerd 68-20 on Jan. 8.
“They are the same exact thing as Fergus is,” said McAllister. “It’s going to be the exact same thing as this one was tonight. We’ll tell the girls (Friday), if you play our tempo and our style we’ll be fine. We can’t run with St. Michael. I think they are even faster than Fergus. If we run with them it will be like this. If we play our style and be patient and run our offense and play good defense, who knows? That’s why we play.”
Fergus Falls 44 34 — 78
Brainerd 23 19 — 42
Kristin Traiser 8, Bailey Strand 26, Brianna Rasmusson 11, Kathryn Sawtell 1, Hanna Swenson 13, Anna Monke 13, Samantha Velde 4, Kaitlin Capouch 2. FG 27-59 (46 percent), FT 19-25 (76 percent). 3-point 4-20 (20 percent).
Katelyn Johnson 11, Maria West 13, Taylor Johnshoy 5, Heather Fletcher 8, Mikinze Boeder 5. FG 15-54 (28 percent), FT 10-15 (67 percent). 3-point 2-6 (33 percent).