VAN HORNE – They’re undefeated, and they’re ranked No. 1.
But Laurie Donald still labels her Benton Bobcats as underdogs.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I feel like everybody is saying the same things … ‘Their posts are bad. They don’t have anybody other than (Madison) Weekly. They’re so easy to beat.’”
Easy to beat? Nobody has done it yet.
Benton Community carries a 16-0 record into the final stretch of the regular season. The Bobcats have wrapped up a share of the Wamac Conference West Division title, and can wrap up their first outright league title in 10 years if they win one of their final three games.
The first shot comes Tuesday at Waterloo Columbus.
“It’s all been kind of a shock,” said Donald, who coached the Bobcats to their first state-tournament appearance last year — they lost in the Class 3A quarterfinals to Mount Vernon. “I anticipated that we would compete, but if someone told me we’d be 16-0, I’d say, ‘Oh, please!’
“I don’t think any of us envisioned this.”
Weekly, a junior guard and the Bobcats’ leading scorer, said, “I don’t think anybody expected us to be where we are. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Benton opened the season at No. 6 in the 3A rankings. The Bobcats made their first big statement Dec. 6, when they went to then-No. 1 Williamsburg and prevailed in a 41-39 thriller. Weekly scored 14 of her team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats survived a double-overtime thriller at Independence on Jan. 10, then faced Williamsburg again at Rivalry Saturday on Jan. 21. Benton prevailed again, 47-46.
“We’ve had some close ones, but we’ve been able to stick together as a team,” Weekly said. “We played our game, and we came out on top at the end.”
Weekly averages 19.2 points per game, and needs 17 to reach the 1,000-point milestone for her career. She is “getting some (college) looks,” she said, “but I’m staying open with my options.”
She’s the focal point, but not the lone wolf.
“(Kelsey) Brecht, she’s definitely stepped up her game,” Donald said. “(Becca) Bridgewater has improved a lot. “(Ashley) Mills, I didn’t anticipate her to rebound and shoot the way she has. I could go on and on about everybody on the roster.”
Though Weekly is the lone Bobcat averaging in double figures, each of the top eight scorers shoot at least 40 percent from the floor.
Brecht adds 9.6 points per game; Sara Petrzelka adds 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest.
Benton is one of two 3A unbeatens: No. 3 MOC-Floyd Valley is 17-0. Second-ranked and defending champion Davenport Assumption is 16-1 with an upset win over 4A No. 1 Iowa City West on Saturday.
The Bobcats are undefeated. But they’re not perfect.
“We have weaknesses,” Donald said. “There are things we need to work on and find answers.”
Benton has been a steady, consistent winner during Donald’s eight years. She owns a 125-52 record with no losing seasons.
But this is new territory. The Bobcats didn’t advance to state until last year and didn’t own a No. 1 rating until this year. The 16-game winning streak is the longest in school history.
“We’re going to enjoy it while we can,” Donald said. “We’re going to ride it as long as we can.”