When the Newell-Fonda High and Ar-We-Va girls basketball teams scrimmaged last summer, no one could have predicted that they'd be meeting again in February with a lot more on the line than short-lived bragging rights.
But tonight at the Carroll-Kuemper gym in Carroll, the teams will face off in a Class 1A, Region 1 semifinal game, just two wins away from a state tournament berth.
Both teams came in a bit under the radar at the beginning of the season and have been at least mild surprises.
Ar-We-Va has just one senior on its roster, along with two juniors, nine sophomores and four freshmen.
The Mustangs are also young, with just three seniors on the roster. They lost to graduation the core of a team - posts Andrea Larsen and Jenn Schumann and guard Kristen Culp - that competed in two straight region finals.
Both teams struggled a bit early, particularly Newell-Fonda, which started the season 6-6. Since a 60-43 loss at home to Sioux Central, Newell-Fonda (17-6) hasn't lost in 11 games.
"We're just playing very well over the past five weeks," said N-F coach Dick Jungers. "We've got a very good chemistry going right now."
Ar-We-Va enters the game 18-5, with two losses each to top-ranked IKM and second-ranked Charter Oak-Ute.
"We're very young, but we have an awful lot of talent," Rockets coach Dave Kock said Sunday night. "This group has been playing since fourth grade, and when you combine that with a solid work ethic, you're going to have success."
Ar-We-Va has sailed through the district tournament this season, opening with a 61-31 win over Glidden-Ralston and beating Coon Rapids-Bayard 56-23 for the district title.
"They have a lot of weapons, a lot of different ways to beat you," Jungers said. "They go eight or nine deep and use a lot of full and half-court pressure defenses, just like us.
"I think whichever team takes care of the basketball will probably have a big advantage," Jungers added.
The Mustangs have been shooting well during their winning streak, but shot a white-hot 70 percent in last Saturday's 56-45 win over ninth-ranked Rockwell City Lytton.
"If they shoot that well against us, we'll be in trouble," Kock said. "You don't lose many games shooting 70 percent."
Jungers also likes the way his team has been playing defense. The Mustangs allowed just 16 points to RC-L Saturday night.
Tonight, Jungers will start junior Sarah Culp and senior Hanna Reis at the guards, 5-7 senior Ashley Lussman at the small forward, and 6-foot Sam Schaffer and 5-8 junior Tenaea Jeppeson at the posts. First off the bench are freshman guard Rachel Culp and 5-9 freshman forward Lauren Devereaux.
Kock will counter with 5-6 sophomore point guard Erica Luetje, 5-7 guard Cokie Quandt, 5-8 forward Jennifer Stoelk, 5-11 junior center Jocelyn Kock and 5-10 senior post Kendra Kock.
Jocelyn Kock leads the Rockets in scoring (15.4 ppg.) and rebounding (8.7) per game. Luetje averages 13.6 ppg, and three assists and three steals per game.
Kendra Kock also averages double figures (10 ppg.) and pulls down nearly seven rebounds per contest. Stoelk averages 8.6 ppg. and Quandt 7.5 pg.
"All five of their starters are capable of having big scoring nights, and that's partially what makes Ar-We-Va so dangerous," Jungers said.
The Rockets, the coach said, utilize an inside-outside game where guards or forwards penetrate the defense, find open post players or dish back to teammates for an open three.
Ar-We-Va has two outstanding three-point shooters. Luetje has hit 40 three pointers this season and Jennifer Stoelk 39. Jocelyn Kock has also hits 53 percent of her shots while Kendra Kock shoots at a 52 percent clip.
Coach Kock, nevertheless, is still wary of the Mustangs.
"We'll be playing a team with a great tradition, but what scares me most is that they are peaking at just the right time," he said.
"I think we have two similar teams; we both have kids in the blocks who can score and we also have some tough three-point shooters. It's the type of game that could go down to the wire."
Added Jungers: "They're the type of team with so many options it's a matter of 'pick your poison.' They are very athletic and play outstanding defense."
Coach Kock said on defense, his team will pressure full court for the entire game. He's also aware that the Mustangs play a similar defensive style.
"They're a very hardworking team," he said of the Mustangs. "Obviously, it will be key for us to handle their pressure and hopefully get a few easy baskets."