Brett Thielges isn't the kind of coach to get bent out of shape on the sideline.
But when his Medina-Pingree-Buchanan Thunder qualified for state last week, it was time to blow off some steam.
It was certainty warranted. Medina had never made it to state in girls basketball, and it had been more than 20 years since Pingree or Buchanan had pulled it off.
"I don't make very good decisions when I'm worked up," he said. "But when there was 30 seconds left and I knew we had it, I turned to our players on the bench and to our fans and let it all out. I'd been holding it in, but there's that moment of excitement where you realize what happened and it hits you."
Medina-Pingree-Buchanan, ranked No. 2 in the state, had been close to getting over the state-tournament hump in basketball and volleyball in recent years. But the Thunder hadn't cleared the final hurdle until beating fourth-ranked Carrington in the Region 3 championship game in Jamestown last Thursday. Thielges said it wasn't a feeling of relief, although everyone was very aware of their near-misses.
"Occasionally, you'd hear a comment around town like, 'You're our last hope.' Oh, well, then no pressure, right?" Thielges joked. "We said from Day 1 our goal was to get to the state tournament. But there were a number of teams in our region that legitimately had the same goal."
M-P-B, the No. 1 seed for the state tournament, was one of four highly-ranked teams in Region 3 all season. That gantlet was ideal preparation for what comes next.
"When I said that our region tournament was a like a mini-state tournament, it wasn't meant as a slight at any of the other regions, we just knew how good the teams in our region are," Thielges said. "I had someone make the comment to me that we've seen everything. Well, you have, until you haven't.
"This is the state tournament. It's a totally new experience for all of us, and all the teams deserve to be there."
The Thunder (22-2) face Watford City at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Wolves (15-10) are playing in their final Class B state tournament for the foreseeable future. They move to Class A next year.
M-P-B is known for its size and smothering defense. The Thunder have allowed more than 50 points in a game just once all season.
Seniors Halle Uehran (6-foot-3), Taylor Sabinash (6-0) and Jadyn Pollert (6-0) allow nothing easy inside. Each also averages at least seven points per game. Uehran also blocks 3.5 shots per game and dishes out five assists per contest.
Guards Amanda Allen (12 points per game) and Megan Moser (11 ppg) are their leading scorers. Moser, just a sophomore, is regarded as one of the top all-around players in Region 3.
The Thunder also get help off the bench from Lauren Moser (6 ppg) and Gracie Bohl (3.5 steals per game).
Thielges said they excel on and off the court.
"The whole team in general is great academically. They're involved in the community, involved in other aspects of the school," he said. "It's a group of kids we're all proud of and not just because of what they've done on the basketball court."
But that's where they'll be this weekend and Thielges is hoping for more of the same.
"We're truly excited to be there, but once you get there, it comes down to can you put three good games together to compete for a state title," the coach said. "For us, it all starts on the defensive end. That's been our M.O. all season and it hasn't failed us yet.
"There is sort of a process, I think, where you're excited to get there and everybody's feeling good, and that's great. But, we don't want to be content with that. We want to do some damage."