The direction is right, and the promise is real.
Lisa Finn likes those things about Cathedral High School girls basketball these days. And while the coming months won’t be easy, Finn said she expects the program to continue in a promising direction.
“I feel good where we are,” Finn said.
Where are the Irish early in the 2020-2021 season? They’re a growing program – one that features five seniors and two juniors, a closely-knit group that’s grasping her philosophy in her second season as head coach.
“We have this whole ‘try-to-change-the-culture’ vibe going on, and we just really are focusing on the positives,” Finn said.
That hasn’t been easy early this season. The Irish, 4-3 as of mid-December, had two December games postponed because of COVID-19. Finn said the games have been rescheduled with the possibility remaining for a full schedule.
The Irish have carried nine players much of the season, and Finn said the team has had to use young players at times because of inavailabilities and protocols.
“We’re thankful for every experience we have,” Finn said.
That’s the approach for many winter sports as COVID-19 causes delays and lineup changes. But Finn said the Irish’s on-court focus involves a veteran team that features five seniors playing as a team and improving daily early in what Finn said is a promising season.
The Irish’s five seniors have played in the program since they were freshmen, meaning the core of the team has been together for four years.
“That makes it nice chemistry-wise,” Finn said. “We’re kind of small but mighty – and I don’t mean small height-wise. I mean small by numbers. We feel good about it. Two of our three losses were games that could have easily been one against really good opponents.
“That’s a little frustrating, but at the same time we’re learning a lot from it.”
The Irish’s five seniors:
*Nyla Bingham (5--3), guard. A fundamentally sound player, Bingham has taken on the role of a defensive stopper this season and was averaging 3.2 points through six games. “We’ve given her some really rough assignments on defense and she’s owned it and taken that as her role,” Finn said. “That’s really big for us. I’m really happy how she’s accepted her role and taken ownership in it.”
*Caroline Cline (5-11), forward. A member of the Irish’s state runner-up soccer team this past fall, she joined the basketball team late and has quarantined twice. She was averaging 8.8 points through six games. “It’s been rough getting her back full time,” Finn said. “She just goes with the flow and has had some great games inside.”
*Courtney Fields (5-8), guard. While Fields (averaging 18.8 points per game) entered the season expecting to play point guard, she also has played off guard and post. “She’s kind of taken over the scoring role,” Finn said of Fields, who Finn said can play and likely will play at the next level.
*Mia Finn (5-10), forward/guard (7.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game). “She’s probably the hardest worker [on the team],” Finn said. “You have to be sometimes when you’re the coach’s kid. She’s taken ownership in that.”
*Clara Lee (5-7, guard). A four-year player who has played some point guard this season and who Finn called “super-gritty and super-intense on defense,” she was averaging 6.7 points per game. “She just knows the game,” Finn said. “She’s got a great basketball IQ. I can count on her.”
“They’re really good leaders and really good kids,” Finn said, adding that the loss of some key scoring from last season has allowed this year’s seniors to step up offensively.
“They’ve never had to do that,” Finn added. “It’s empowering for them to do that. It makes our guards pass better. It makes our girls look for the open person more. It makes them value possessions where when you have a high-scoring player sometimes you don’t have to do that.”
The Irish also expect key contributions from junior guard/forward Katie Bremer (5-11), a third-year contributor and the Irish’s second-leading scorer, as well as junior power forward Darryn Ely (5-11) – who dealt with injuries in recent seasons and is healthy this season.
“I’m really excited about her transition from last year to this year – not only on the court but off the court,” Finn said of Ely. “We’ve got her healthy now and she has had a mindset shift. It’s been really good to see. She has a lot of athletic and basketball talent. It’s good to see her take ownership of it.”
Finn said the ’20-21 Irish ideally will be a team that does all the little things well. It’s also a bigger team than last season, with four player 5-11 or taller.
“We’re focusing on using our post players to get our guards open,” she said. “What must improve is ball-handling and time-and-score situations: knowing when we have a lead that we don’t need to rush trying to score – or when a team puts a run on us we don’t need to freak out on the other end. We’ve tended to do that a few times along the way. That’s going to be one thing that’s important for us down the stretch to get better at.”
The Irish will strive for that against the same COVID-19 backdrop challenging many sports. Finn said COVID-19 has changed practice and preparation dramatically, with the scout team eliminated and as much separation between jayvee, varsity and freshman teams as possible.
“We’re doing the best we can,” she said. “It’s obviously a challenge for everyone. We’re just glad for the girls to get games in with all that’s going on. It’s a challenge the girls have handled well.”