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MV’s Emerson Whittenbaugh takes the ball to the basket.

It could have been dumb luck, fate, or simple geographic location that brought the end of Maquoketa Valley’s girls basketball season. Regardless of how it happened, the pain still lingers for a team that proved themselves unquestioned contenders throughout the course of a 20-3 run that ultimately ended at the hands of (then) 2A defending champion, Cascade (23-2) in the district finals.

Prior to the regional tournament, the Wildcats were riding high on a 14-game win streak, the program’s longest since the 2012 team that opened their year at 23-0. That run included the first Wildcat win over North Linn since 2014, with this year’s team avenging a Dec. 14 loss by defeating the Lynx, 60-52, Feb. 3, to earn a share of the Tri-Rivers Conference title.

It was the first 20-plus win season for a Wildcat team since the 2013-14 squad also went 20-3. With 1,399 team points, this year’s squad is the highest scoring team since the 2011-2012 unit put up 1,418.

The Wildcats bid farewell to six seniors in Maddy Anderegg, Sam Wall, Brooklyn Sands, Brooke Wilson, Madyleine Moenck and Maci Freiburger.

“We graduate great kids every single year,” Wildcat head coach Scot Moenck said. “Year after year, they believe in one another, work hard, and all do big things. People see the numbers and see how good they are on the court, but it’s more than that. Basketball is a very small portion of their lives, and all six of our seniors will go on and do wonderful things in the future.”

Wall graduates as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,488 career points, as well as two-time all-state and one of the top scorers in Iowa prep history. She finished this season with a team-best 477 points (20.7 points per game), earning her second Tri-Rivers Conference Player of the Year award and first-team all-state honors from the Iowa Girls Coaches Association. The Southwest Minnesota State bound guard also posted team-highs for three-point goals (54, 38.0 percent) and free throw percentage (84.2) and added 85 rebounds, 63 assists and 54 steals this season.

Anderegg, a starter, finished as MV’s fifth scorer at 4.5 points-per-game. She was third for the Wildcats in three-pointers (23) and finished with a 62.5 free-throw shooting percentage, 75 rebounds, 35 assists and 44 steals. Freiburger, also a starter, finished fourth for the team with 144 points (6.5 ppg) while leading the team in blocks (13) and finishing second in rebounds (109).

An impressive group of returning players begin with this year’s pair of sophomore starters, Emerson Whittenbaugh and Ella Imler. Each found themselves complementing Wall’s play style quite well this season, with Whittenbaugh providing a big net presence and Imler sharing the role of playmaker.

“People always say, ‘this will be a down year’,” Moenck said. “Last year, we graduated some pretty important seniors, and even in the years before we had girls who had put up some big numbers for us. But every year, we get kids that just buy in. They believe in the program, they believe in the system, one another, the coaches. We’ve enjoyed a lot of success at Maquoketa Valley because of that.”

The future of the program will include an awful lot of Whittenbaugh, who tallied 279 points (12.1 ppg) and had a team best 55.7 field goal percentage while also leading the team on the boards with 169 total rebounds this season. She also posted 36 assists, 30 steals and 11 blocks en route to earning a TRC first-team all-conference nod.

Imler is another key returnee, leading the team with 118 assists while finishing as the number three scorer (182 points, 8.0 ppg), second in three-pointers made (32), third in steals (44) and fifth in rebounds (80). Her emergence helped take pressure off Wall, who posted 94 assists the year prior, which played a big role in MV’s success this season. Imler earned TRC second-team all-conference honors and finished eighth among Class 2A players in assists.

Yet another player that will bring experience back to the court next winter is sophomore Taya Tucker, who finished third on the team in rebounds (108) and posted 86 points (3.7 ppg), 20 assists, 33 steals, and shot 54 percent from the line as the Wildcat’s top bench player.

“I didn’t play (Imler) for one second against North Linn last season, and this year she didn’t come off the floor for one second,” Moenck said of Imler’s ascent, before adding that Tucker “hasn’t even scratched the surface of her ability and has tons of untapped potential.”

Those three will join what Moenck calls another “well-kept secret,” in junior Brooke Elgin, on the court next year for another go at the illusive trip to the state finals.

“We expect some big things out of Brooke Elgin next year, we really do. She had a wonderful year on the JV level and probably could’ve played some minutes for us. She was just behind some good kids (Tucker), (Freiburger) and (Whittenbaugh).”

Regardless of what next year brings and of how this season ended, this team was one that both Moenck and the history books will remember for a long time. Their collective success marked a deep connection among this year’s Wildcats.

“What people don’t see about those kids is what they did behind closed doors. This was a really close knit group that really cared for and believed in one another, and that’s where it all started. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy those successes if that wasn’t the case,” Moenck said. “I just really enjoyed this group. It’s been hard already, because I miss them right now. I enjoy going to practice every day, being with the coaching staff and being with the kids. It was a great year and one of the best groups we’ve ever had.”