Confident Cats continue to embrace underdog role

Herald File Photo by Traci Westcott
Jasper head coach John Goebel talks to the Wildcats during a timeout in last week's sectional semifinal against Evansville North. After winning the sectional last Saturday as an underdog, the Cats are continuing to embrace that role heading into this Saturday's regional against Center Grove at Seymour. The Cats not only have the lowest Sagarin rating among the four teams in their regional, they're also the smallest team remaining in Class 4A with an enrollment of just 1,093 — the remaining schools have an average enrollment of 2,315.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

There's a famous saying by Mark Twain that goes along the lines of, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." This statement feels fitting for the Jasper boys basketball team.

Of the 16 schools remaining in Class 4A of the IHSAA boys basketball regional tournament, the average enrollment size is about 2,315. The average enrollment of Jasper High School? 1,093.

Out of all 101 schools in Indiana’s largest class, Jasper sits at 97th in enrollment size. The other four schools in this weekend’s regional at Seymour are all in the top 50 largest schools in the state while Jasper’s three opponents at last week’s sectional at Evansville North all were bigger by at least 150 students.

However, being the smallest school left isn’t a hindrance at all for the Wildcats (16-9) — in fact, it’s just added motivation to the underdog role they’ve fed off of this postseason.

“We know that nobody is going to give us a chance because we’re so small,” said senior forward Jared Englert, referencing this Saturday’s regional game against Center Grove at 10 a.m. “They said the same thing about the sectional and we ended up winning that so we’ll see what happens.”

Senior guard Josh Weidenbenner added: “I love being the underdog because no one is looking for you to win the tournament. It’s fun being able to prove everybody wrong, it’s just kind of like rubbing it in their face.”

Jasper found out two years ago that several of its athletic programs would be getting bumped up to Class 4A including boys basketball, girls basketball, football, baseball and volleyball. Since class basketball had been instituted, Jasper had always found themselves in Class 3A.

While head coach John Goebel was a little upset upon finding out about the move to a new sectional at the time, it wasn’t because the Cats would be facing schools that had much larger enrollment sizes than they did. It was because Jasper would be losing several fun rivalry battles — similar to what Jasper lost when the Dubois County sectional including Southridge, Forest Park and Northeast Dubois was dismantled at the end of single-class basketball.

“You had Vincennes (Lincoln), Washington and even Southridge bounced back and forth (in the sectional) – those are some of our biggest rivals,” Goebel said. “We always knew going into that sectional was like going into war. One of the determining factors of winning and losing games that often gets overlooked is the emotion and energy that comes from when the other team really wants to beat you. In the Evansville sectional, there’s no real rivalries (for us) that would entice a crowd to come out and provide energy in those situations.”

Another improvement that Goebel would like to see is less disparity in school sizes in the largest class. While this isn’t necessarily an issue in Class 3A, 2A and 1A, there’s no denying that there’s a big difference in populations between the schools at the top and those toward the bottom.

As mentioned earlier, Jasper’s current enrollment of 1,093 is one of the smallest schools in Class 4A. In fact the two largest schools in the class, Carmel and Ben Davis, have more students in their freshman class than the Wildcats have in their entire school (1,282 and 1,225).

“To me, that’s just too uneven,” said Goebel. “The whole purpose was to even the playing field but that just doesn’t happen for the Class 4A schools. There’s just too big of a difference between the top and the bottom.”

While the players could’ve been disappointed about the move to a higher class and having to face bigger schools, that wasn’t the case at all.

In fact, the Wildcats embraced the move as it meant a bigger stage to showcase just exactly what the team was capable of.

“We knew it was going to be different but we were up to the challenge,” said Weidenbenner. “There was nothing we could do about it.”

Senior guard Reece Milligan added: “I knew it was going to be a little bit of a challenge but our program always welcomed that. Now look, in just our second year in (the sectional) we win it.”

Something that helped prepare the Wildcats for what they would expect in the tough 4A sectional with teams such as Castle, Evansville Harrison and Evansville Reitz was their past experience in just as tough of a sectional in Class 3A.

The Wildcats never had it in easy in their old sectional — nightly battles with the Hatchets, Alices and even sometimes the Raiders kept the Cats on their toes at all times.

“I think the 3A schools around here can beat any of those schools that we play in the Evansville sectional,” Weidenbenner said. “I think that really helped us prepare for this — even though we didn’t know we were going to get moved there.”

But perhaps the biggest motivating factor that the Wildcats will continue to have is the fact that they’re once again the underdog at Saturday’s regional in Seymour. Center Grove, Bloomington South and Jeffersonville are all ranked in the top 15 of the Class 4A Sagarin ratings while Jasper currently sits at 62nd.

But who needs metrics and rankings? Jasper was ranked behind both Castle and Evansville Reitz in the Sagarin rankings for the sectional and we all know how that story turned out.

Sure, you can count the Wildcats out if you want but they’ve heard that prediction before and they’re not worried about it.

“I think being the underdog and flying under the radar can be beneficial,” Goebel said. “I do think it allows us to play with an edge, I don’t mind seeing us in that position.”

Milligan added: “This is just another chip on our shoulder — it just gives us extra motivation to prove people wrong.”




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