The goals around Cathedral High School girls basketball are simple. They’re lofty, too.
So, while first-year head coach Lisa Finn wants the Irish to build a foundation for the future, she and the program are thinking about short-term objectives, too.
“At the beginning, our goals were in a certain spot, but as we continue to have success we say, ‘Guys, why not us?’’’ Finn said. “This year is a year it could be anyone.”
The Irish, a season after finishing under .500, have started 2019-2020 strong. They were 10-2 through mid-December and receiving votes in the Class 4A Indiana Basketball Coaches Association rankings, with an experienced lineup winning consistently in the early stages of a refocused program.
“We’re playing well and there are still so many things we can do better,” Finn said. “Obviously, winning some games helps with that. Anytime you have winning success it makes doing things you don’t want to do a little bit easier.
“It’s going to take time, but in a short time we’ve made a lot of progress. I feel like kids want the structure. They need the structure. If you give it to them, a lot of times they flourish under it.”
Key to the Irish this season:
An experienced lineup that features senior Justis Gordon and junior Courtney Fields. Finn called Gordon “a flat-out scorer,” adding that she has changed roles this season – handling the ball less and being asked to rebound more.
Gordon through mid-December was averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
“We’re not very big,” Finn said. “Our biggest players is 5-feet-11 and that’s stretching it. We’re all guards. We’re all interchangeable. We have some better ballhandlers than others, but we’re essentially a team of all guards. She (Gordon) is a big part of what we’ve got.”
Fields was averaging 12.6 points and 3.2 assists a game through mid-December. Finn called Fields, who didn’t play as a sophomore after starting as a freshman, “the X-factor.”
“Having her back is a game-changer,” Finn said. “That’s what we were lacking, was a secure ball-handler. She’s something we didn’t have last year. We had a lot of talent. But you need someone who can deliver the ball and you need someone who can handle pressure.”
“Her and Justice trade back and forth leading in scoring. That’s a nice one-two punch.”
Sophomore Katy Bremer also has been key to the Irish, averaging 6.8 points per game. And Finn said senior Cassie Piper (7.8 points per game) has started the season strong after recovering last season from a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained early in her sophomore season.
“That’s the great thing,” Finn said. “We really have all of our key players back which is really, really nice. They’ve played together for two and three years. We don’t have to spend a lot of time getting to know each other in that respect.”
Finn said the focus early in the season – and a major difference from last season – has been a teamwide focus on “team first.”
“It’s been a big shift in culture, in positive way, realizing it is a team sport and we need each other,” Finn said. “You can’t have five single games of one on one when we’re on the court. You’re not going to be beat anybody if you do that.
“That’s been our biggest focus, stepping back and letting them use their basketball knowledge and their athleticism to play – but still with that team-first attitude. We’re really concentrating on making the extra pass and looking for the people who are open. That’s been the biggest thing we’ve tried to instill since the summer.”
Finn said the coaching staff also has worked to instill a belief in players that they can achieve at a high level: “That’s been our message to them: ‘You’ve never been treated like a championship team. We feel as a coaching staff like we could be a championship team. So, we’re going to treat you like one. We can help you get there. but you have to trust us and you have to buy into what we’re saying. It’s not always going to be what you want to hear, but your decisions are always going to be based on what’s best for the team.’’’
The Irish’s task for the rest of the season won’t be easy. They play in a difficult sectional – Class 4A, Section 10 – that includes No. 2-ranked Lawrence North. Finn said a primary goal remains winning the city tournament, which the Irish haven’t done in more than a decade.
“It’s definitely doable, but I think our goal is to peak right before sectionals,” Finn said. “I keep looking at the schedule thinking, ‘We’re right where want to be.’ I’m really excited about what’s to come.
“Great teams stay the course. It’s a long season. We’re either going to get better or we’re going to start a decline. We can’t stay where we are. We can’t let ourselves decline. We have to separate ourselves from other teams that can’t stay the course.”