Battle of the Unbeatens! Our Bishop Luers Lady Knights JV team was living a dream season so far, with a perfect record of 13-0. Varsity Coach Greg Fiend had added another powerhouse team to the girls already super tough Varsity and JV schedule in Penn H.S. (one of the largest and most powerful schools in Indiana). Problem is, the game was slotted in on a Friday night at South Bend, the night before we were to play in the talent rich JV tournament early Saturday morning at F.W. North Side. Arguably the 3 best JV teams in NE Indiana were included in this tourney-Carroll, Concordia and Luers. Beating both of these other 2 heavyweights back to back is extremely tough. Playing both in same morning after playing an undefeated team the night before, driving two hours before arriving home after midnight, getting a precious few hours of sleep, then getting up early enough to get to the gym by 7:30 am was agony for the girls. That all was what would be required just to PLAY those 2 games. Actually beating 2 teams of that caliber would be a monumental task!
But, first things first. We had an important game to play against Penn. Longtime BLHS Head Coach Denny Renier did a great job all year long of making sure the girls kept their nose to the grindstone, focusing only on the task at hand – our next opponent! Shortly before the game we not only found out that Penn was undefeated, but had not even been challenged. Their closest win had been 12 points! The game itself was played at an extremely high level. We came out strong, but led only 12-10 after quarter #1. Our center Gabby Denning really asserted herself in the post during the 2nd quarter, leading us to a 23-17 half time lead. Penn fought back in this see-saw game of emotions and momentum, closing the gap to 3 at the end of three. Penn stepped up the pressure even more in the 4th quarter. They grabbed the lead with 1:38 left in the game. We were sputtering, struggling and Big Mo was now all on Penn’s side. Then they got a steal and headed down on a fast break looking to extend the lead, and maybe even put a couple nails in the proverbial coffin! But McKenzie Wyss, our best defensive player was streaking down weakside. She beat the Penn guard, looking for a layup, down to the paint. Then Mac quickly slid over to strong side and took a hard charge. No basket! Luers ball. Brierra Young got open for a 3 pointer and drilled it! Only 1 minute and 15 seconds remained. We never gave up the lead. They had to resort to fouling to stop the clock and get the ball back. We converted well from the line to pull out a 47-43 victory. That turned out to be the last game that we ever trailed after halftime. We were, however, in many, many close games. Usually leading the entire 2nd half of most games, our M.O. was this. We always seemed to fight off rallys that opponents would have — maybe with a steal, a big bucket, pressure free throws, a great stop on “D”, whatever it took by whoever happened to be on the floor at the time. Total team effort. This night Penn’s rally was thwarted by McKenzie Wyss taking a great charge. But, you know, McKenzie Wyss contributes heavily to virtually all our victories. She plays the game with non-stop energy! She never stops running. She is like a John Havlicek of the new century! She’s a tall guard at 5’9″ with a great wingspan. She is tall enough to guard the post and quick enough to cover – and overwhelm – any guard. She has handles, is a great passer and gets lots of deflections on defense. Mac rebounds, she can score and is so unselfish! She is our most complete player. Looking back now, that charge was absolutely, unquestionably the play of the year!! Bar none! And, in retrospect, the fact that Penn never had a close game until us certainly benefited us. We had a ton of close games. Our Lady Knights knew how to play in those pressure situations. How to survive-even thrive in them! They can try to simulate close game situations in practice, but it can’t be done! It’s not the same – not at all like the real game situation! By this 14th game, it was second nature to our girls! In this Penn game, Mac had a team high of 6 assists. Super-sub Emily Braun, also a former St. Therese player, had an awesome game contributing heavily to our big win with 4 assists, 2 steals and no turnovers! She also started in 5 or 6 games at guard. Emily had a solid season all year long, whether starting or coming off the bench. It seemed like she always played well. Other stat leaders in this huge win were: Melissa Oberley, 10 points and 3 steals; Shelby Gruss led the rebounds with 6. Six other girls had between 3 and 5 boards, as well. Again, talk about total team effort!
Now, for the 4-team JV tournament the next morning. We played an always tough Carroll team in the 1st game. We played the 1st half well, but shot poorly. However, Junior Co-Captain Rachel Anspach just took over the game, especially in the 1st half when nothing was falling. Rachel is sooooo mentally tough. On paper, she’s not quick enough to play guard, and way too short for post – where she usually plays. But anytime she hears anyone say she CAN’T do something, trust me, she is going to do it! Her court intelligence, over-all hustle every second out there, and just sheer determination carries her through. Some games she just wills us to victory! This was one of those games. She’s a leader with a resolve that transcends throughout the team. Against Carroll, she had 10 points (all in the 1st half), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal! We opened up a slim 6-point halftime margin to a 17-point lead after three. And though Carroll hit four 3’s in the final quarter, our overall team fundamentals pulled us through. We had fewer turnovers than Carroll (11 to their 20), and out rebounded them 27-22. Super-sophomore Gabby Denning led with 12 points. Co-Captain Wyss and two excellent diaper-dandy freshman (Abby Bireley & Hilary Watts) all led the rebounds with 5 each. Rachel McKenzie and Melissa Oberley led in assists with 3 each. Emily led in steals with 3. Abby (St. Therese) and Hilary took different routes to their increased contributions, well beyond their years, as the season went on. Abby played well from Day 1, and just kept on improving with a very even-keel demeanor. Hilary started the season struggling, which led to a loss in confidence. But now she was really rolling, too. These 2 freshman’s biggest strengths are totally different. Hilary is a scrapper, fast as the wind and gives you non-stop hustle. Abby is a strong, physical guard who has the sweetest jump shot on the entire team!
Now, about 45 minutes after our Carroll game, we’d be facing Concordia for the second time this season. When we took control of the SAC conference race a couple weeks earlier vs. Concordia, we played possibly our best overall defensive game. We held them to just 14 points in the 1st three quarters that led to a 37-25 win. But the Cadets were just the type of disciplined, physical team that we DIDN’T want to face after what we’d been through in the last 14 hours! Their relentless, in your face, man-to-man defense provides pressure on every ball handler. Plus they make every single pass an adventure, constantly denying our wings and post alike! But, as always, Coach Renier emphasized and re-emphasized starting the game strong and aggressive right out of the block. Tired? No excuse. Dig deeper! Give 100% every second you’re out there. Then let us know when you’re getting tired (earlier than normal, if necessary). We’ll get a rested sub in to go 100%. It sounds simple. But it’s so easy for a player to just coast a little, maybe “take a play off” on D, rather than let coach know that you’re bushed. That can certainly cost your team some wins. Not this team! They bought into it all year. We almost always started the game strong, and grabbed an early lead. Tired as they were, the girl’s effort was fantastic. We led 14-11 after one period, and 24-16 at half. Our top player in this year’s freshman class, Brierra Young, scored 8 points, and Gabby added 6 to set the tone offensively. But Concordia, one of the best teams we played all year, made a strong run. They cut the lead to 3 in the 4th quarter. But, as always, our Luers’ girls did all the little things necessary down the stretch to win games. The final score was 44-39. Then Coach took us all (coaches and players) to Casa’s to have fun and to celebrate, what we accomplished in the past 24 hours. In this game, “Bri” was the key! She led the team in 3 areas: 6 assists, 2 steals and 5 rebounds. From her point guard position! And that was all in just 2 quarters! Brierra, who has an ever-present smile that can light up a room, was dressing and playing part time on varsity as well. She improved all season on our JV squad. But, by the time our Varsity post-season rolled around, Bri was in the starting lineup. Best of all, she ran the point superbly on our Sectional Championship team. What a year she had!
Now, Denny and his assistant coaches (Dan Wyss, Stu Oberly and myself) all felt that we had a real shot of going undefeated. But, though the girls certainly knew that we hadn’t lost, none of the coaches mentioned anything. Nose to the grindstone. More work to be done. We won at Northrop 35-20. Rachel had 7 boards and 9 points. Emily had 4 steals and Shelby Gruss led us with 3 assists. Shelby, like Gabby and Brierra, was another one that played part-time varsity. It’s kind of like being on 2 teams, but it’s hard to get in the rhythm when you may play only 2 maybe 3 quarters. But Shelby, a sophomore, played hard – and well, all year long! She’s determined, and she hustles like Amanda Pedro. And that’s the ultimate compliment! All 3 girls did what the coaches asked all year, knowing, that this is making them better for future years! By the way, speaking of accepting your role, sophomore Kaitlyn Scheiber is the epitome of the definition of “Team Player”. Kaitlyn came out for basketball, after playing only volleyball the past 1 ½ years. She made the team and improved immensely. But she still had a lot of catching up to do. Some games, she played a lot. Many others, she played sparingly. A couple, she didn’t get in at all. Never once did she complain. However much she could contribute to the team’s success, big or little, in practice or in games, was fine with her. Kaitlyn has a great vertical leap and she developed a killer jump shot in the post that she’d kiss off the glass time and time again! Plus, she was strong with the ball inside. She had only 7 turnovers all year long!
Next on the schedule was Harding. Boy did we start out flat. We were down 13-7 after one period. Our “D” kept us in the game. Four girls really pulled us through. Kaitlyn gave us solid minutes off the bench with 4 points, 2 boards and 2 assists. McKenzie and Rachel gave us their usual non-stop all-out hustle, with results even better than normal. Mac led in rebounds with 8 and Rach snared 7. Mac also led us with 5 assists. And while MacKenzie was the defensive player of the game, Co-Captain Melissa Oberley was the offensive star. Our teams leading scorer all season long, she broke out of her mini-shooting slump by nailing 3-threes and 16 points! She is a lights-out shooter, and is one of the best 3-point shooters in BLHS history! She also plays tough “D”, moves her feet well, and gets in passing lanes, too. In fact, she led us with 4 steals vs. Harding.
Now, we can almost taste it, an undefeated season with just two games to go. The Elmhurst game would be our biggest hurdle left. Coach Renier had the team so focused to start this game out strong, after our intensity let down early vs. Harding. We played the finest 1st quarter of defense I’ve seen for a long time! We held Elmhurst to 5 points, including a lucky banked-in three! We led by 10-5 after one. This game followed the pattern of many of our tough wins. Jump out to a lead, and then don’t give it up! But this game was close all the way. Brierra played super. She had 10 points, and “Missy” had 9. Gabby dominated the glass with 9 boards. Gabby is the quickest – and physically stronger post player in school! And when she is playing super-aggressively, she can do things out on the floor like nobody else can! She also had 3 steals. Shelby and MacKenzie led us with 4 steals each. Mac and Melissa had 2 assists each. Our girls absolutely Refuse to Lose! We prevailed in game #19, 32-27. We won the SAC crown. Extremely important.
Now for JV immortality! In our 20th and final game, we totally dismantled Wayne 51-12. Hillary Watts led balanced scoring with 11 points. Rachel had 9 and Shelby 7. We were 14 for 20 in free throws, and had 11 girls who scored. Hillary also led in steals (5), and tied in rebounds (4). We forced 35 turnovers, and only committed 13 ourselves.
What a season! Looking back, we shot 352 free throws, hitting 61%. Our opponents only attempted 180. We had 11 close games, and pulled through every time. How? We had no superstars, just a bunch of close-knit talented girls who believed in their coaches, and in each other-a team that simply played smart, and were well skilled in fundamentals. They ran the offense to a T. They never panicked when their opponent made a strong run. In all these close games, we only trailed after mid-3rd quarter once all year. These girls simply put their team goals ahead of their own individual stats. Even playing time was not important. Just, “How can I help my team win?” We lose 3 excellent seniors from our Varsity team. But not to worry, we don’t rebuild in our BLHS girls basketball program. We reload! Some JV kids are now ready to play varsity. Our strong, aggressive freshman team that lost only 4 games themselves will likely take their place at JV. Plus, we have our strongest incoming 9th grade class in the past 4 years entering Luers. This should be an EXCITING YEAR at all 3 levels! But right now, let’s enjoy and celebrate our dream JV season. The PERFECT SEASON! Refuse to lose! Now the 2007-08 JV team owns a piece of BLHS Girls Basketball Immortality!
PS-A note to this past years freshman girls team: We coaches can’t wait to have you next year!