In Waconia’s first girls’ basketball game of the season, it put up 111 points, and coach Carl Pierson’s “Fun and Gun’’ system was off and running.
St. Anthony, in defeat that November night, scored 104, reflecting a soft defense that also has become a Waconia trademark.
Since opening night, the Wildcats (9-14) — with a roster full of players under 6 feet tall — have topped the century mark five more times. The fifth time came Monday night in a record-breaking 122-115 overtime victory over Glencoe-Silver Lake.
They are averaging 92.8 points per game, well above the state record of 85.4, set by St. Paul Central in 2007. They are also on pace to give up the most points in a season (93.2 per game).
The approach has left opposing players frantically running back on defense and scorekeepers scrambling to keep up. Nine times, the final tally on the gym scoreboard has been wrong — and not always in the Wildcats’ favor.
“We began to implement ‘Fun and Gun’ during the summer as we played in tournaments and in a summer league,” Pierson said. “It was done very much on a trial basis. I made it clear that we would abandon it if it was a disaster. Needless to say, our players really embraced it and we experienced a degree of success.”
Much of it stems from the play of junior point guard Anna Schmitt. On every possession, the ball immediately gets into Schmitt’s hands. The speedster creates 3-on-1 and 3-on-2 opportunities, often resulting in a layup or an open three-point attempt.
“I like it because it’s such a fast game. We push the ball, and get a ton of shots,” said Schmitt, who leads the team in scoring at 30.0 points per game. “I can barely watch other games now. They are just too slow.”
“The game is going back and forth so quickly that if you glance at the scoreboard, you have missed something,” Pierson said. “It’s very fast-paced.”
Time for a change
Pierson considers himself a traditionalist when it comes to coaching. He felt a need for a nontraditional alternative for this year’s undersized squad.
“We began to consider it as a coaching staff in February of last year,” Pierson said. “We were contemplating life without a 6-foot-1-or-better post, something we had been blessed with the previous two seasons.”
Pierson first looked at Paul Westhead’s teams at Loyola Marymount in the 1980s. The Lions set numerous NCAA records with their up-tempo, run-and-gun style.
“Some aspects of that style fit our personnel, but not all of it,” Pierson said.
He then took a look at the Division III men’s program at Grinnell College in Iowa. The school has become known for its high-scoring individuals, most notably Jack Taylor with his two 100-point games.
Grinnell shoots three-pointers in record fashion, applies constant full-court pressure and substitutes players frequently.
“We agreed parts of that system would work for our kids,” Pierson said. “Then we added a few wrinkles of our own and arrived at what we call ‘Fun and Gun.’ ”
One chant you won’t hear at a Waconia game: “D-e-f-e-n-s-e!” It’s pretty much nonexistent.
Senior captain Kaylee Vanderhoff is referred to as the trailer. It’s a nice way of saying she is the last line of defense.
“I’m usually the one back, trying to stop a lot of 2- and 3-on-1s,” Vanderhoff said. “We do a lot of running around. We really don’t play defense.
“People get on us about not playing any defense. But they say that we’re fun to watch, too.”
Waconia’s opposition has eclipsed 100 points 11 times.
“The one thing I’m getting out of it is a stiff neck,” Orono announcer Brad Olson said. “It’s like watching a tennis match.”
After Hutchinson scored 112 early in January, the goal was 120 a month later in the rematch.
“We were a little disappointed that we only scored 103 points the second game,” coach Tim Ellefson said. “It sounds a little funny saying that, but if we don’t miss 34 free throws, we would have met our goal.”
The second matchup featured a combined 121 trips up and down the court, 86 free throws and 69 turnovers. The Tigers rallied for a three-point victory in the nearly two-hour marathon.
“Our players love playing against it,” Ellefson said. “It’s like unleashing all anxiety for our girls.
“As a coach, I don’t look forward to playing Waconia because it is such a different mindset for our players and staff. We need to practice basic skills like 3-on-2 and 3-on-1, which we don’t get very often in other games. We don’t need to practice offensive sets.”
The state’s all-time winningest girls’ coach — Mike Dreier, with more than 800 victories — recently also got a firsthand look at the system. His New London-Spicer squad won 110-99 after giving up 59 points in the first half.
“I think Carl has done an outstanding job matching the skill set of his players with a system that maximizes their potential,” Dreier said. “They are a major challenge to prepare for because of their uniqueness.”
That uniqueness usually leaves both teams exhausted as they leave the gym floor.
“It’s a fun way to end my career,” Vanderhoff said. “I’ll never experience something like this again.”