Postseason brings intensity, pressure for teams

Herald File Photos
Jasper’s Claire Knies leads a Wildcat program that’s searching to win its first sectional championship since 2015 as they’ll host their Class 4A sectional for the first time. Forest Park will also host its Class 2A sectional for the eighth straight season as they hope to bring a trophy back to Ferdinand after losing in the semifinal last year.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

The time is upon us. After three months of crossing half court, cutting across the lane, and defending the paint it is now time to put it all on the line as the local girls basketball teams chase glory in the sectional tournament.

Everyone knows the stakes; you must bring your best night in and night out as one misstep could be enough to bring the season to a close.

“Emotions are high in the Indiana state basketball tournament,” said Northeast Dubois head coach Andy Chinn, whose team will be defending their sectional title when they play on Feb. 1. “Everybody is excited and nervous, the atmosphere in the gym is electric. The whole town will shut down for our game Friday night. That’s something we don’t take for granted.”

“The tournament is the ultimate goal, having success in the tournament has to be one of your goals in the beginning of the season,” said Kim Brown, head coach of the Heritage Hills Patriots. “I don’t know why else we play. We play the regular season for your record and conference championships and all that, but all that goes away once the tournament starts.”

Indeed, all of the shots, fouls, and hustle plays have led to this latest pool of competition with all the teams in their respective brackets bringing everything to bear so they may earn the right to cut down the nets and bring the coveted sectional championship back to their schools.

“To me, it’s different because we all realize that if we want to keep going we have to win,” said Forest Park junior forward Macie Zink. “The practices before sectional are different because I’m trying to help others have the mindset of ‘it’s now or never.’ It’s go time, if we don’t go now we’ll never have a chance.”

Jasper senior forward Rachel Gress echoes that sentiment and notes that all the players involved are reaching deep into their reserves to mine every ounce of effort, for tomorrow is not promised at this stage of the game.

“Everyone kind of knows this could be their last go ‘round,” she said. “Everyone wants to be focused, everyone is trying as hard as they can and are just leaving it all out there.”

But that is only one thread that goes into the tapestry that is the sectional tournament, as the many players and coaches can attest to the other factors which make this portion of the season so special.

One of the added elements that heightens the excitement for all that are involved is the crowd. All of the teams are sure to draw legions of their fans by the carload and they fill the stands with cheers as they show their support for the kids they have watched grow and flourish in their communities.

“One thing we enjoy at our gym is that we have our student body right behind us and our students always come loud and ready to go,” said Forest Park coach Tony Hasenour. “ They bring an energy to the gym and the team, and it’s fun having them right on top of us at the bench.”

With their parents, friends, and neighbors rooting for them to play their best, the players feed off of that passion and fervor to boost their collective abilities to levels they had not experienced before.

“We have great fans. A lot of my classmates come out and support even if they don’t know the game of basketball,” said Heritage Hills sophomore guard Avery Neff. “I remember we had spirit night and everyone came out and it was really loud. Having everyone cheer for you, that gives you more energy to finish and win.”

Southridge’s Monica Steckler and Northeast Dubois’ Jazlyn Sander don’t only lead their respective teams at the point guard position, they both also help add a significant amount of scoring.

But another part of the mix is the kind of energy the opposing teams will be adding, as they bring their heightened levels of intensity to make their claims for a sectional title.

Teams that may find themselves matched up against opponents they faced before in the regular season, but it’s a totally different ball game when they run into each other during sectional. Everyone has to be prepared to match that output.

“It’s going to be challenging to match (an opponent’s) intensity, but I know that we can do it,” said Northeast Dubois guard Madison Cave. “However hard they’re going, we go harder.”

“I think we’ll be ready to go when we get out there,” said Southridge sophomore guard Kennedy Nalley. “It’s not a problem for our team to be ready to go when we step on the court. Once we get into sectional we’ll be ready to go.”

One factor that teams hope to combat is the tendency to add extra pressure to their games. Everyone knows what’s up for grabs and what’s at risk when the ball tips off, but it’s just as important for teams to not get wrapped up in their task to the point of being overwhelmed.

Coaches have to balance those things out mentally, but when it comes down to it the players can’t forget how to play the kind of game that has gotten them to this point.

“You remind them that they’ve been playing basketball since they were in third grade, they know how to play,” said Jasper coach Jessica Mehringer. “They’ve been playing all year, they know how to play together. Yes it’s one-and-done but you have to come out and trust your skills and the work you’ve put in for the entire year. If you can get them to do that, the game is easy.”

Hasenour relates it to the task of eating an elephant: parse it out into chunks and don’t feel like you have to do everything at once.

“It’s a fine line because everybody knows what’s at stake,” said Hasenour, “You’re not hiding that from anybody, but at the same time it’s not like ‘Oh my gosh, you have to play perfect to win this game.’ We want to do A, B, and C and that’s going to help us win. It’s just breaking it down into those things you want to do to stop the other team and not putting that extra pressure on yourself.”

All of those things combine to create an entirely different season with its own unique feel and weight. But everyone is ready and excited to start the final charge, and just maybe take home a bit of history for their trouble.




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