FULL CIRCLE: Forest City coaches Matt Erpelding, Patti Strukel have a decades-old bond

Zarren Egesdal, Account Executive & Sports Director

Zarren Egesdal, Account Executive & Sports Director

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Wouldn’t it be wild if, years before, two people met and joined a coaching staff to help lead a school to its first state basketball tournament, those two people had that same experience in the same season with different schools in different states hundreds of miles away? 

That would be wild, and it’s a true story. 

2007 was a year that saw Bob Barker sign off The Price is Right, the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl, Jordin Sparks win American Idol, the first iPhones were sold, and some of the current members of the Forest City girls basketball team were born.

But ’07 was also remarkable for two girls’ basketball teams. The WCLT Tigers, coached by Matt Erpelding, and the Fairmont (Minnesota) Cardinals, coached by Patti Strukel – reached their school’s first-ever state basketball tournament. 

Now, in 2024, they’ve combined to help lead Forest City to its first girls basketball tournament in school history. 

If you look up underdog in the dictionary, you’ll find the 2006-2007 Fairmont Cardinals. So much so the Associated Press reported that their opponent in the sectional final (the game to go to state in Minnesota), top-seeded Hayfield, had won the game when, instead, Fairmont had pulled the upset. 

In her eighth season, Strukel had done it – she had led the Cardinals to the state tournament, and the season that started with anxiety and worry as star player Megan Foster was involved in a severe car accident ended in the joy of making the tournament. Foster missed the first eight games of the season but returned to score 14.7 PPG and lead the Cardinals in the department. 

The Cardinals took the floor on March 15th, 2007, at the Maturi Pavilion, home of the Gophers volleyball team. Their opponent was the Albany Huskies coached by Jon Noreen, who admitted in an interview after the game that he started prepping for Hayfield because of the Associated Press report of the final score. The article in the papers that cover Albany also read that the Huskies would face Hayfield in the opening round. 

The opening-round game didn’t go the way of Fairmont, as they fell to the Huskies 67-59, but had a strong finish going 18-9. Albany’s season ended in heartbreak a couple of days later when they lost the state championship game 50-49 to Pipestone. The game ended in controversy when Pipestone’s game-winning three-point basket appeared on replay to only be a two-pointer, which would’ve tied the game for overtime but instead gave Pipestone the championship. 

Ten days prior and 245 miles from Maturi Pavillion, it was a different feeling for the #14 ranked WCLT Tigers coached by Matt Erpelding, as they knocked off Highland 68-59 to advance to the semifinals in the Tigers’ first-ever trip to state. They were led by Stacey Schutjer, who had an impressive 24 points and 24 rebounds, and current Forest City businesswoman Allyson (Gross) Wilson, who hit a big three-pointer in overtime to give WCLT the lead for good. Wilson had 17 points in the contest, while teammate Alyssa Schwartz added another 18 for coach ‘Erp’ ’s team. 

WCLT’s Stacey Schutjer fights with a defender for the basketball in a state tournament game during the 2007 tournament.



That win set a semifinal meeting and a possible revenge game for WCLT. The Tigers came into what probably could’ve been the state title game with a 24-1 record. That lone loss was to Graettinger-Terrill, the team next up for WCLT at the state tournament. 


Again, the game goes into overtime, and again, Graettinger-Terril is too much for WCLT, beating the Tigers 45-41 to advance to the state championship game.  




Two coaches, miles and days apart, bring joy and pride to their communities. They’re now doing the same in Forest City and will help lead the Indians onto the floor at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Monday at 5:00 PM.


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