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Season preview: Buckaroos have another title in mind after undefeated run in 2019

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul senior Erin Counts and the Buckaroos girls basketball team have extended their current win streak to 38 games, dating back to the final game of the 2017-18 season.At this point, dominance is the expectation for girls sports teams at St. Paul. They don't seem to feel the pressure, but they do keep winning titles.

After a second consecutive volleyball state championship, St. Paul's top performing athletes are back on the court for basketball season, aiming to build on a 30-0, state championship run that culminated this past March.

Hoisting another trophy — which would be the fourth between volleyball and basketball in the past two years — is the goal for the Bucks this season.

"We're deep, and we're real excited," coach Dave Matlock said. "We have seven seniors, six returning from last year's championship team. This is an extremely deep, hard-working team with a great attitude and great chemistry.

"When you have success like that, it's about staying hungry. This group is unusual because they refuse to rest on their laurels in any sport. They're doing this in basketball, volleyball and track, and it's really something to behold."

Maintaining the mentality of last season shouldn't be a problem for this Bucks squad, Matlock said, as it is led by seniors Isabelle Wyss and Erin Counts, among others. The winning experience of this roster is rare and the depth rivals any team in the state at any classification.

The desire to succeed doesn't stop with Wyss and Counts. Five other seniors and a handful of underclassmen make up the remainder of a roster that could go 10 or 11 deep if Matlock chooses. Their play style hasn't changed, nor has much of their roster.

"They have an incredible drive that doesn't seem to wane," Matlock said. "Isabelle and Erin are big parts of that because they've been through so many wars together in multiple sports, and they're the leaders on our team in that way."

Suffocating defense and quick-hitting offense remain the pillars of St. Paul's program. They opened the season with a 52-35 win over Country Christian on Friday, a team Matlock expects to be in the title hunt right along with his group.

Others Matlock has his eye on include Crane, Perrydale, Demascus Christian, Joseph, Powder Valley, Elkton and Mohawk. The Bucks play most of those teams during the regular season and have seen others during postseason play, so they have a good idea of what they will be facing.

What St. Paul's opponents will face is a team unflinching in its defensive resolve, offensive speed and dedication to playing a team game, according to Matlock.

"At the top of our list of priorities every season is being good people and working hard," Matlock said. "Basketball-wise, defense is our biggest focus, and we want to be one of the toughest defensive teams at any level. That's what they have to continue to be, because that's what dictates these games year in and year out.

"We're incredibly quick and incredibly strong, and we're already meshing in the running game. That's hard for teams to stop when we match our defense with our ability to get out on the break. We're a tough team to slow down."

Heading into the week before winter break, the Buckaroos were 6-0, including wins over 2A powerhouse Kennedy to win the annual Kennedy Classic Tournament, and a 2-0 mark in the Casco League. The Bucks were ranked No. 1 in the 1A OSAA rankings prior to their league game against rival No. 7 Perrydale (4-1, 2-0).

Matlock looked ahead to the 2019-20 season with unprecedented anticipation. Regardless of how it ends, this group of athletes will be remembered around the small town they grew up in.

"As a coach, you go through cycles of more talent or less talent, but this run of kids has been the most talented I've ever coached, and they have phenomenal character," Matlock said. "It's been well taught at home and it's been brought out in the school. They're a quality bunch of young ladies and I'm lucky to be able to coach them."

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