Here we have an oddity. A team with a 15-7 record had to pay its way into the state tournament.
It will be a while before Mandan girls basketball coach Len Stanley forgets last winter's dismal finish to what had been a fine season.
He just hopes his team is anxious to make amends. And there are plenty of players returning with a bad taste in their mouths from last March's debacle.
"That's a heck of a motivator," Stanley said as he recalled a season-ending three-game ouster from the West Region tournament. "We threw it in their faces every day this summer. ... We've got to get over the hump.
"It's a lesson learned," Stanley emphasized. "You play to win. The shots weren't falling early against Jamestown, and you start to play not to lose."
Mandan lost 44-39 to Jamestown with a state tournament berth on the line.
Several girls who played prominent roles on that team return.
Mic Longtin, a 5-foot-2 senior, returns as a third-year starter.
She was an all-region selection last season on the strength of 15.0 points, 2.7 steals and 3.8 assists per game. She sank a team-high 34 3-pointers.
Other returning letterwinners include 5-11 senior
Elizabeth Meyer, 6-2 junior Lexi Goldade, 5-10 junior
JaeLyn Russell and 5-10
junior Courtney Goetz, all of whom started at one time or another last winter.
The guts of Mandan's team, it appears, has moved from the perimeter to the paint with the graduation of Steph Pedersen and Anna Helmers.
"Our Achilles' heel last year was a lack of post presence, and that has to be addressed, and it will be," Stanley said. "We've got some kids who have matured since last year."
Meyer averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 282 minutes last season, Goldade averaged 3.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 332 minutes, Russell averaged 4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 247 minutes and Goetz averaged 7.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 251 minutes.
"Goldade is a year older and stronger ... Elizabeth Meyer is a strong kid. She should be able to help us on the blocks. Makenzie Schmidt (a 5-10 junior) will see a lot of minutes this year. She should help us on the blocks," Stanley said. "JaeLyn Russell is a strong kid who will be another post player."
Stanley said his post players aren't wooden lob-me-the-ball types.
"Our bigs can run the floor. Goldade is 6-2 and very athletic. She gets up and down," he said.
"People forget those kids were sophomores last year, and (5-8 guard) McKayla Howling Wolf was a freshman," Stanley continued. "We saw a lot of growth this summer with the traveling team. They're maturing."
Stanley said his post players must assert themselves under the boards.
"This group has a lot of potential ... but last year they got outrebounded by about five a game. With a year of maturity that's got to get better," he said.
On the other end of the spectrum is Longtin. Stanley said the worst thing the opposition can do is judge this book by its 5-foot-2 cover.
"I feel pretty confident Longtin can be one of the premier guards in the state," Stanley said. "Longtin, Howling Wolf and Goetz - all of them can handle the basketball."
They can also shoot it. The Longtin-Howling Wolf-Goetz triumvirate combined for 61 3-pointers last season.
"We should be able to score. There are plenty of 3-point shooters in this group," the coach said.
Defensively, the Braves were fourth in the West Region last season, surrendering 56.7 points per game. Stanley said he would take a similar defensive performance this season.
"I don't see why we won't be at least as strong defensively as we were last year," Stanley said.
However, Mandan may not play as much nose-to-nose full-court pressure as Braves fans have become accustomed to seeing.
"Mandan has always been noted for its full-court pressure," Stanley said. "But this group can play at almost any pace. ... We'll pick our spots more this year than Mandan has in the past."
It's not for want of depth that Stanley is backing off the Braves' aggressive defensive posture.
"We have eight kids we feel comfortable with. The sophomores got tons of minutes last year, and Chelsey Peterson is a sophomore who could see a lot of minutes. She's pretty nifty and has a nose for the ball. She's kind of a No. 3-type player, and she's got a work ethic like Mic Longtin."
Stanley may have several veteran players off a team that finished eight games over .500 last season, but he has no illusions of a walk in the park. He points to Century, Minot and Bismarck and the Braves as probable contenders with Jamestown having an outside shot.
Mandan opens at Jamestown on Fridayand and visits Century in its second game Dec. 15.
"(Century) is a group of seniors, and they're just solid. It doesn't matter what sport," Stanley said.