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Leaving a lasting mark

Published 10:58am Wednesday, March 13, 2013 Updated 11:21am Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When looking at successful basketball programs, there are several key factors that keep them competitive year in and year out: A bevy of talent, a good youth program, strong support from the community and boosters and consistent leadership by a great coach.

In the past six years, the Fergus Falls girls basketball team has won three Section 8AAA titles and made three state appearances all with one key difference: they have done it with three different head coaches.

Dave Rund, Josh Mohagen and, recently, Brad Strand have all led the Fergus girls to the state tournament, which no girls coach had done in the history of Otter basketball.

Rund was the first to do it as his 2007-08 squad, led by future Iowa Hawkeye Hannah Draxten, edged Detroit Lakes 46-45. This would be the Otters’ first appearance in the state tournament, but Rund’s girls saw their state playoff run end before it began as they fell to Minnehaha Academy in the quarterfinals 49-44 in overtime. Rund would be named Class AAA Coach of the Year by the Minnesota State High School League.

The following season, Rund would hand over the reigns to former Fergus Falls standout Josh Mohagen as he stepped into his new role as the head boys basketball coach. Mohagen’s first two years were a learning experience, but in year three, the Otters had a surplus of young and inexperienced talent.

The 2010-11 season would prove to be a precursor of things to come as the Otters would string together a 10 game winning streak, won the Central Lakes Conference and competed in the section final game.

In the team’s second appearance, the Otters would defeat Chisago Lakes Area, fall to eventual state champion DeLaSalle and claim a third place victory 65-54 over Hutchinson.

After the season was over coach Mohagen announced that he would be leaving the Otter girls to take the Men’s head coaching vacancy at M State, leaving the Otters in search of a new leader.

“It was difficult to leave the team after developing so many relationships with the players and coaches,” Mohagen said. “But I felt that the program was in the right hands with assistant coaches Renae Rasmusson and Norm Newell and I knew that Athletic Director Gary Schuler would find someone that was hard working and a competitor. So it made it easier knowing that.”

After a three month search, the Otters named Pelican Rapids boys head coach Strand as the new girls coach. Strand brought along his aggressive defensive and up tempo, transition offense to a very athletic and experience team.

So far under Strand, the Otter girls have yet to lose this season and have held the No. 1 ranking in Class AAA all year. Last Friday, Strand help lead the Otter girls to their second straight section title.

The similarities of these coaches are uncanny. All have experience coaching both genders in the sport, each led teams to over 20 regular season games and each had several standouts.

“All three of us have a passion to excel, improve daily and win,” Rund said. “We are never satisfied, because when you are satisfied, you are finished.”

Schuler sees many of the same attributes in all three coaches. “They all have a passion for the game of basketball and for kids. They work extremely hard at their profession and are all great teachers of the game.”

The differences between the coaches is mostly on offense as tempo and emphasis have seen the Otters confuse opponents preparing to see the same thing based on a previous meeting the season before.

But what makes the Fergus Falls girls basketball program so successful. Each coach has a different take.

“The coaches and staff just have the passion and commitment to excellence for our team to improve,” Rund added.

“I think it is the investment that Coach Rund made with the younger players,” Mohagen stated.

“There is a really good family support system and a backcourt club that does a great job of getting kids excited and in the gym,” commented Strand.

However this year’s team finishes in the state tournament, fans can almost expect it won’t be the last.

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