Four years ago, the Lakeville South girls’ basketball team finished 1-26. That didn’t deter Angie Iverson-Ohnstad from applying for the head coaching job — and ultimately accepting it.

“We were willing to put the work in, and we know what it takes,” Iverson-Ohnstand said. “You want to reach that elite level.”

Now, the Cougars are gunning toward the possibility of a 20-win season in Iverson-Ohnstad’s third year at the helm. That should qualify as elite.

Lakeville South won nine games in Iverson-Ohnstad’s first season. The Panthers finished 17-10 last year, and the turnaround has not gone unnoticed.

The Cougars were ranked No. 8 in the Star Tribune’s preseason metro poll. They defeated Minneapolis Washburn 81-61 in their season-opener Dec. 3.

Iverson-Ohnstad was a standout player at Owatonna High School and the University of Minnesota, where she earned all Big Ten honors twice for the Gophers. She then served as an assistant under Andy Berkvam at Lakeville before the schools split and eventually at Lakeville North.

She took a few years off to focus on family before taking the head coaching job at Lakeville South. Berkvam, a highly successful coach for 23 seasons at Lakeville and Lakeville North, proved to be quite the mentor.

“Andy ran such a top-notch program, just all the way from kindergarten on up,” Iverson-Ohnstad said. “I learned so much from him. The opportunity at Lakeville South allowed me to start my own thing.”

One of the main focuses of the current coaching regime is convincing players to put basketball as their top priority. That means nearly year-round training.

“It’s something we really worked hard to change, and now we’re really seeing the benefits of making those commitments in the summer and fall and the offseasons,” Iverson-Ohnstad said.

The Cougars are a lot more aggressive and communicative on defense. Previously they’ve played it safe and allowed the opposition to “shoot the lights out on us,’’ Iverson-Ohnstad said. Developing an aggressive, in-your-face defense takes time to teach and be effective.

Offensively, the Cougars have scoring threats at every position. In previous years, opposing teams could key on one or two players and shut down Lakeville South on the scoreboard.

One player who will draw a lot of attention is 6--4 senior Katie Quandt, who will play for Boston College next year. Quandt’s confidence level and strength have improved tremendously. Expect her to dominate in the post.

In the summertime, Iverson-Ohnstad, a former standout post player in her own right, goes 1-on-1 with Quandt.

“She committed to the weight room and improving her core strength,” she said. “Now that’s a strong kid.”

Maddie Wolkow was out most of the summer and offseason because of an illness, but she’s now cleared to play and should help lead the offense by posing a strong scoring threat from the outside.

Grayson Schroeder is another offensive weapon. Added to the mix are a couple of up-and-coming sophomores in M’Caela Sellers and Bri Miller. Both had outstanding summers.

The Cougars’ season ended last year in what had become typical fashion: a first-round section playoff loss. Now, they’re looking to take the next step but it won’t be easy. The Cougars have scheduled some of the state’s top teams to play early on in the season.

But players are projecting the fun of winning.

“Just how the girls carry themselves in school,” Iverson-Ohnstad said. “Teachers have made comments that they’re not hiding away or saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t want anyone to know that I’m on the team,’ to saying, ‘Yeah, I’m on the team.’ It’s just how they carry themselves in public. That’s great to see.”