For some it was success by surprise. For others it was nearly a worst case scenario. That’s what COVID-19 has given all of us in the last year — a life full of surprises — taking the good with the bad. And this girls basketball season has been no exception to the rule.
North Montgomery started the season 2-0 and with all the pieces in place for its first winning season since 2013. Then COVID protocols took place, injuries followed, and the Chargers lost 11 in a row.
However, North never wavered, won two of its last four games, and has a healthy roster heading into the sectional.
I have been impressed by the Chargers’ calm demeanor and willingness to fight through adversity. North Montgomery has faced multiple quarantined situations and have had multiple players miss games due to injury. They never quit and continued to fight, and that’s been admirable.
Coach Ryan Nuppnau has watched several role players blossom into key components for the Chargers entering sectional play, including senior Nina Gable, who has handled the ball and even picked up some scoring slack in her first season of varsity. The Chargers have leaned heavily on Katie Rice when they are successful, but have found contributions all the way up and down the lineup.
For Southmont, the Mounties continue to count their blessings. After a brief quarantine at the onset of the season, Southmont has navigated through the season with only minor issues, and had success doing it. First-year coach Dan Burkman guided Southmont to a 10-0 start and the Mounties enter sectional play at 12-4.
Burkman has impressed me this season, finding ways to best utilize every player on the roster — getting the most out of his seniors — and most importantly still building for the future.
Senior Abbey Gass has been a pleasant surprise for the Mounties, while freshman DeLorean Mason has shown that the future will remain bright for the South girls’ basketball program.
Coach Burkman told me the first time we talked back in October that he felt like this team could win the sectional. I think everyone knew the Mounties would likely replicate a winning season, but very few saw a .750 winning percentage and there is no doubt that Southmont is in the hunt for the sectional along with host South Putnam, which would be their first since 2014.
If Burkman is not the local coach of the year, then it has to be Fountain Central’s Jason Good, also in his first year at the helm.
The Mustangs are 13-6 heading into the sectional, an improvement from 5-18 a seasona go. Fountain Central enjoyed a six-game winning streak and overall won 11 of its last 13 games, largely in part because the Mustangs bought into what coach Good was selling.
They played tough defense, team basketball, and were aggressive offensively. The Mustangs are averaging 44 points per game, up from 37 last season, and have decreased their defensive scoring average by 10.
If I had to pick a most improved player in the area, it would be Mustang guard Jerzi Hershberger. The junior has averaged 7.9 points per game this season and 3.7 assists compared to 4.3 points and 1.5 assists per game as a sophomore. Couple that with Dakota Borman’s 14.7 points per game and that’s led to an abundance of success for the Mustangs.
Fountain Central will look to play spoiler in the sectional, hoping to upend Seeger, a team they lost to twice during the regular season.
Much like North Montgomery, Crawfordsville has been a team of misfortune this season. The Athenians are in the middle of their second quarantine situation, and will have to open sectional play on Wednesday against Danville with no practice time beforehand.
It’s unfortunate too, because the Athenians were playing their best basketball of the season when the most recent round of COVID-19 protocols hit. Crawfordsville has won three in a row and are 5-10, just a win away from matching last year’s 6-17 mark.
There have been some pleasant surprises for the Athenians though. Freshman Taylor Abston has given an offensive boost at times this season, and junior Kearston Hutchens has helped add depth in a talented junior class.
It has been a difficult season for all, no matter the win/loss record.
But things could be worse, much much worse. And at the end of the day, all four local girls’ basketball teams will compete this week in the sectional, and that’s certainly something to be thankful for.
Jared McMurry was born and raised in Montgomery County and is the Sports Editor of the Journal Review. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 765-918-8656. Follow him on Twitter @jaredmac26