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High hopes surround girls' basketball

Senior guard Tessa Wells and the Wildcat girls' basketball team will open the season at the Red Wing (Minn.) Tournament Friday and Saturday. Wells is a two-time All-Big Rivers Conference selection and returns after averaging over 18 points per game last season. Bob Burrows file photo

Head coach Kyle Igou and the Wildcat girls' basketball team have plenty of reasons to be optimistic as they prepare to open the season at the Red Wing (Minn.) Tournament this weekend.

The Cats return four starters from a year ago, including first team All-Big Rivers Conference selection Tessa Wells and Honorable Mention selectee Emma Purfeerst, both seniors this season. Along with fellow returning starters, Aimee Dusek and junior Sarah Vitale, and Kayla Kusilek, a senior who performed well off the bench last year, the Cats have plenty of experience.

"Everyone is a year older and has another year of experience," Igou said. "We're not a young team anymore."

Wells averaged over 18 points per game last season while Purfeerst contributed just over seven.

Adding to the optimism surrounding the program is the fact 46 girls showed up for the first day of tryouts last Wednesday.

"That tells us our program is doing well and growing," Igou said. "It's a great situation to have."

Igou said the increased numbers will also improve the team's depth. Last year the Cats rotated seven or eight players into a game. This year Igou predicts he'll be playing eight to 10 on a regular basis.

"We've got 18 girls who are going to be competing for varsity spots all year long," the coach said. "It's going to be exciting."

Igou said it's been a challenge preparing to open the season with barely a week of practice, but he's encouraged by what he's see from his players so far.

"I don't know if I've ever had a group as focused and that works so hard," the four-year coach said. "Expectations are extremely high."

Wells enters her senior season after being named MVP of the Wisconsin Sports Network Senior Showcase this summer in Menomonie. She signed a national letter of intent earlier this month to attend college and play basketball at Winona State University next year.

"I'm really excited for her," Igou said. "It's kind of a relief that she's done it so early. It takes a lot of pressure off of her. She knows what she's doing next year and now can focus on playing ball and helping the team advance as far as it can in the conference and the tournament."

Purfeerst also played a lot of basketball in the offseason and Igou expects her to be playing in college as well.

"Emma's going to play somewhere," he said. "There's a variety of schools talking to her."

Igou said he's looking forward to the Cats improving on last year's 11-11 record.

"Our goal every year is to work hard and have fun," he said. "If we do that the rest will take care of itself."