The Aquinas High School girls basketball team has spent a long time positioning itself to be the among the best in the state.

One way to do that is littering the schedule with difficult nonconference games to accompany an MVC schedule that is already filled with schools significantly larger in enrollment.

Whether it’s been Joe Gaspard or Matt Watson or Dave Donarski as coach, the Aquinas teams of the last 25 years have always looked for challenges.

That tradition continues Saturday when the Blugolds travel to West Des Moines, Iowa, to play powerhouse Dowling Catholic.

The Blugolds (19-0) are ranked first in Wisconsin’s Division 4, and Dowling is third in Iowa’s Class 5A — the state’s biggest.

“We are always looking for games to challenge us, and I have a connection at Iowa State (associate head coach Jodi Steyer),” Donarski said after the Blugolds beat Central on Tuesday. “I told her we wanted to play a really high-quality team.

“She knew the coach and connected us. It worked within what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. They are a powerhouse, and it should be a really good matchup for us.”

Dowling Catholic (17-2) is coming off a rare loss and will certainly be ready for an Aquinas team that was state runner-up last year and ran its regular-season winning streak to 41 games by beating Arcadia in a nonconference game on Thursday.

The Maroons, who have played in 18 state tournaments since 1992 and won five state championships during that run, are led by sophomore superstar Caitlin Clark, who averages 27 points per game.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune
Aquinas High School point guard Lexi Donarski drives around Onalaska's Olivia Gamoke during a recent MVC game. The Blugolds put their perfect record on the line Saturday against Iowa's Dowling Catholic (17-2).

Iowa State, which already has a verbal commitment from Aquinas sophomore Lexi Donarski, is also recruiting Clark.

“She shoots at a really good clip and create her own shot,” Donarski said of Clark, a 6-footer who is ranked by at least one publication as the nation’s top college recruit in her class. “What I like is that we have a host of players who we can have defend her.

“Madessa (Collins), Kyah (Steiner), Lexi (Donarski) and even Jess (Peterson), at times, will get a run at her,” Dave Donarski said. “I think we can be successful by really going at her.

“She’ll get her (points), but I think we can make her work hard to get them.”

The Blugolds already own nonconference wins over Chippewa Falls (12-7), Hayward (16-2), West Salem (15-5), Eau Claire Regis (12-7), Madison Edgewood (14-6), Milwaukee DSHA (13-6) and Bangor (16-3) this season.

Aquinas, which is 441-175 in the last 25-plus seasons under Gaspard, Watson and Donarski, is trying to take that final step and win a state title this season, and the Maroons will give them a challenge in Clark they likely won’t find along that path.