There was a stretch in January for the Fergus Falls boys basketball team when the Otters realized something was off. Winning wasn't fun and certainly neither was the 16-point loss at home to section rival Alexandria.
"Winning was just another thing we were supposed to do," Fergus Falls junior Nathan Rund said. "The game just wasn't as fun. We're a better team when we're having fun, getting after it and having that edge."
Winning had become expected from a Fergus Falls team which returned many players from last season's team that made it to the Minnesota Class 3A state tournament championship game.
"I think we experienced a mid-season lull," Fergus Falls coach Matt Johnson said. "Instead of enjoying wins, people were expecting wins. We're really trying to embrace the journey and embrace the process, remembering to enjoy the wins. Just cause you're expected to win doesn't mean it's easy."
The Otters found their edge. After the loss to Alexandria, they have won 13 of 14 games, with their only loss to a team a class above them. The No. 4 seed Otters take that edge into the Class 3A quarterfinals against No. 5 seed Crosby-Ironton at noon Wednesday, March 22, at Williams Arena.
"We had won a big game in Rocori and it was just another win," Fergus Falls junior Harrison Christensen said. "After we got our edge back, we started having fun again."
After two losses during the regular season to Alexandria, the Otters rolled the Cardinals 64-46 in the Class 3A, Section 8 championship for their first back-to-back section titles since 1916 and 1917.
"We went through a rough spurt where it wasn't as fun as it needed to be," Johnson said. "We lost to Alex and looked at each other and it didn't feel fun. We should enjoy the journey and the process. The kids love being around each other and the game. Coaching staff included, we needed a reminder that the game was fun. We became a much better team."
The Otters are one of two teams in the Class 3A quarterfinals which made the state tournament last season. The other being top-seed DeLaSalle, which beat Fergus Falls 79-65 last season in the state championship game. Fergus Falls returns players that scored 52 of those 65 points in last season's state championship game, including Christensen, who scored a team-high 22, and Rund, who scored 13.
"Being familiar with meal plans and hotels is a huge difference," Johnson said. "Game 1 you walk into Williams Arena and there is a little bit of an awestruck feeling. Our kids have been there and know they've been there. You're certainly more comfortable."
It wasn't just comfort the Otters learned.
"We can go down there and compete with those teams," Rund said.