Tight-knit Otters have their eyes on a state title
Fergus Falls senior power forward Anna Monke does not remember the first 18 months of her life in which senior point guard Brianna Rasmusson was not part of it.
She can’t imagine life without her.
“Our parents were best friends since I moved to Fergus when I was about 18 months,” Monke said. “Me and Brianna have known each other since birth pretty much, and we’ve been the best of friends since.”
Monke and Rasmusson are two of four senior starters on the Fergus Falls girls basketball team, which has left its mark all over the Otters’ history book. Devonie Smith and Kristin Traiser have combined with Monke and Rasmusson for 22 trips to state in four sports.
“You can’t get much closer than the four of us,” said Monke, who is averaging 14 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game for the Otters.
Before the book closes on the group, they are looking for one more page together, beginning Wednesday in the Minnesota Class 3A state basketball tournament quarterfinals.
“We’re so unbelievably grateful to just be able to play together in both volleyball and basketball,” said Monke, who is a University of Minnesota-Duluth basketball commit. “You never want to settle for anything, so going into this last state tournament, you want to make a mark that a lot of people will remember.”
It will be hard for anyone to forget the group. They were all starters on the volleyball team, which went to state for the first time in school history this season, finishing third. They have been a part of three of the four state basketball teams in school history to go to state, including a third-place finish in 2012.
Rasmusson, who will play volleyball next year at North Dakota State, has qualified for the state track and field meet three times between the triple jump, long jump and 800-meter relay. Fergus Falls has gone to state in softball twice in school history, with Smith being on both teams and Traiser being on one.
Before becoming town heroes, the girls had some of their own.
“When we were younger, we would always look up to the players,” said Rasmusson, who is averaging 11.1 points, 9.2 assists, six rebounds and 3.1 steals a game this season. “I remember when I was in sixth grade, they made it to state basketball for the first time ever, and we just thought they were the coolest people ever.”
The group of seniors got two new additions last season in coach Brad Strand and his daughter Bailey. Bailey – a University of North Dakota basketball commit – has averaged 21.4 points with a field-goal percentage of nearly 44 percent for the Otters.
“Bailey fit into the group perfectly,” Monke said. “She was exactly what we needed.”
Brad Strand feels this is the team that can get Fergus Falls its first girls basketball state title.
“We got to be on the top of our game,” Brad said. “I think seven of the eight teams in Class 3A has a chance. It’s about putting together three games, and our girls have a shot.”
The history isn’t all pretty for this group of seniors. Just as the Otters did this season, they started ranked No. 1 and went into the state tournament ranked No. 1. They went one-and-done at state last season, falling to Monticello in the quarterfinals 79-78 in double overtime. It was the most points in a girls basketball state tournament game, along with the most points for a losing team in state girls basketball history.
“We are going in there with the mindset that we are determined not to let it happen again,” Monke said. “We prepared this entire year for it. It’s not really something you want to be remembered for.”
Regardless of what they do at the state tournament, in Fergus Falls, Minn., this group of Otters will be remembered.
“We wanted to come in and make this program better and make girls like basketball,” Monke said. “Obviously, with the crowds that have come, people have learned to love this program. For volleyball, we’re the beginning of that. We’re that first group that put it on the map, so hopefully the program continues to grow.”