Reggen Melson sees a difficult objective simply.
Excellence at the state level is the overall objective at Cathedral High School – and Melson says it’s simply and obviously the objective for Irish girls basketball, too.
Getting there takes work, and the Irish are beginning that process under Melson during what has been a promising start to the 2017-2018 season.
“We’re getting there,” said Melson, in her first season as the Irish’s head coach after previous head coaching stints at Scecina and Crispus Attucks. “There’s a lot to change with a new coach coming in. We have a nice group of upperclassmen. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but we’re getting there.”
The Irish began Melson’s first season 9-8, turning in a strong showing at the City Tournament before losing in the semifinals to Tindley, 66-55. They had won four of five games entering the Tindley matchup.
“The girls have to learn to trust you,” Melson said. “When you’re used to doing things a certain way, sometimes it’s like that’s the only way to do things. I’m trying to change the culture and demand a little more time from them as well this year. It’s a matter of adjusting to where, ‘OK, this is the norm now.’
“For the freshmen, it won’t be anything new for them next year. But for the upperclassmen, it can be a hard adjustment.”
The Irish showed strong signs from the beginning of 2017-2018, with their first three losses coming by a total of eight points. The strong start and adjustments made to a new situation can be attributed in part to the leadership of a small-but-strong senior class that includes:
*Kim Patton. An Indiana junior all-Star last year, Patton led the Irish in scoring and rebounding through 17 games with 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. “She’s been an integral part of the program for four years,” Melson said. “We look to her a lot, especially with our scoring.”
*Molly Beatty. She has averaged 6.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game through 17 games. “She’s a spark for us, and she’s worked really hard,” Melson said.
A third senior, Emily Howard, has played sparingly this season and provides leadership. Melson said underclassmen also have played well this season, including a strong trio of sophomore Jessica Gordon (10.9 points per game), junior Maddy Lee (4.6 points, 4.9 rebounds) and sophomore Nia Conway (3.9 points, 4.1 rebounds).
“We’ll have three starters returning and our bench is pretty much freshmen with one or two juniors,” Melson said. “We’re pretty young, which is a good thing.”
Melson said while adapting offensively has been an adjustment, the team has been strong defensively. It was that defense that gave Melson a good feeling early, with the Irish allowing 65 or more points just twice in the first 17 games.
“I said, ‘OK, we might have something here,’’’ Melson said. “Below 55 is the goal. That’s what we’re going to lean on going forward. We’re going to have to lean on our defense. We’re playing defense well. Our practices are focused on the need to stop people.”
Melson said that defensive focus along with a strong, developing group of young players gives her the idea the Irish will improve as the season continues – and continue improving into the postseason. And she said that’s absolutely the objective.
“A basketball season is really preparing all for the tournament,” she said. “I’ve told them, ‘When tournament time comes, all you have to do is win that night.’ You don’t have to be the better team overall. You just have to be the best team that night. All these games are preparing you for that night.’ When you get to the sectionals, it’s, ‘Did you advance or did you not?’’’
Melson said reaching a point where the Irish answer that question in the affirmative more often than not is the objective, and she said it’s absolutely attainable – even in a sectional that perennially is among the state’s best.
“We have to get to that point,” she said. “Our school is total excellence. They want to be excellent in academics and excellent in sports, so of course in girls basketball we want to go deep like the football team, baseball team, lacrosse, volleyball …
“We’re trying to get back to that caliber of a program, where we’re not just competing but they’re trying to come after us. That takes hard work. You have to have people who know how to play basketball, score and rebound. Overall it’s going to take hard work. It will take girls playing year-round, working in the offseason on their own – and with the team it’s going to be everyone saying, ‘How do we make ourselves better?’
“From the coaches to the players, we all have to put our time in in the offseason to get to that level.”