Wolves enter state tourney without fear

Three weeks ago, Watford City entered the District 15 tournament 14-5 overall, seeded third behind New Town, the two-time defending Region 8 champs, and ninth-ranked Parshall.

Labeled a long-shot, the Wolves (20-5) went on to win their next six games, including two wins over both New Town and Parshall.

They were underdogs then. According to the Wolves, they’ve been underdogs all season, and that’s fine by them.

Now, the Wolves are one of eight Class B teams still standing. They take on No. 8 Central Cass (22-3), the 2013 state runner-up, at 8:15 tonight at the Fargodome in the state tournament quarterfinals.

“We wanted to prove people wrong,” said senior guard Kara Langerud, who leads Watford City with 4.2 assists per game. “New Town and Parshall were really strong teams, but we worked hard at practice every day and got it done.”

The Wolves upset New Town by 14 points in the District 15 semifinals on Mar. 1, booking their place in the championship game against top-seed Parshall. Two days later, Watford City rallied from a nine-point third-quarter deficit against the Braves to capture the district’s top seed in the region tournament.

The following week, Watford City just kept winning, and once again, New Town and Parshall fell victim to the Wolves’ red-hot form.

Watford City coach John Zenz hopes his team’s performance streak continues.

“We’re confident that if we continue to do the things that we’re capable of doing, we’ll have a good shot,” Zenz said. “There are definitely some quality teams in this tournament. Our whole focus right now is to try and find a way to beat Central Cass, which will be no easy task.”

The fourth-seeded Squirrels have won 13 in a row and are led by 6-foot-3 senior forward Faith Dooley, a 2013 all-state tournament team selection and Miss Basketball finalist. Dooley shoots 55 percent from the field, and her 21.0 points per game average accounts for just under 37 percent of Central Cass’ total offensive production this season.

She does her damage in the post. Of the 407 field goals Dooley has attempted this season, 385 were taken inside the paint.

“We’re going to have to play really tough defense on (Dooley),” said senior Katie Mogen, Watford City’s leading scorer. “We’ll have to box her out, and limit the number of easy shots she gets on offense.”

Central Cass lost the state title game 54-50 to Bishop Ryan last season after taking a three-point lead into the fourth quarter. Over the last two seasons, the Squirrels have won 44 of their last 51 games.

But Zenz believes his team has proven the insignificance of records and expectations at tournament time. Though his team will be picked as the underdog again, his primary focus is making sure the Wolves are ready for the first round.

“One game at a time, obviously,” Zenz said. “Things might not always go perfectly for us, but I think we’ve shown that we can hang in games and find ways to win. That’s what we’re gonna try to do.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.