Ending up No. 1

Like he has done in each of his previous four seasons as Columbus North girls basketball coach, Pat McKee conducted a postseason meeting with his players.

This year’s meeting was much more joyous, thanks to the Bull Dogs winning the first state championship in school history.

“The meeting with the team we held following the state this year and following the regional the past two years, it was a big difference,” McKee said. “There wasn’t that focus of, ‘What could we have done?’ This year, it was a better, more enjoyable meeting than ever before because we didn’t have anything hanging over us.”

North, which had lost in the regional to eventual state champion Bedford North Lawrence teams the past two years, upset the top-ranked Stars 48-40 in the finals of the Bedford North Lawrence Regional. Then, the Bull Dogs avenged their only loss of the season with a 69-60 win against Lawrence North in the Richmond Semistate.

That set the tone for the finale, a 62-56 triumph against Homestead in the Class 4A state finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“Winning the last game is pretty cool,” McKee said. “I’d like to win the last game every year. It’s probably not feasible to expect it, but it would be nice.

“When you lose the last game, no matter how good you are, it’s frustrating because you can’t help but dwell on the last game,” he said. “Even when you have a great season, which we’ve had the last four, losing the last game, you’re kicking yourself wondering what might have been or could have been. This year, to end on a win, you don’t have any of those regrets or second thoughts.”

North was led all season by McDonald’s All-American Ali Patberg. The Notre Dame recruit led the Bull Dogs with 25.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 3.1 steals a game as a senior in earning Miss Basketball and Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year honors.

This season, Patberg broke the school’s single-game (44), single-season (751) and career (2,026) scoring records. She also holds the career records for assists (534) and steals (273).

Besides Patberg, North will lose defensive stalwart and All-Conference Indiana selection Debie Gedeon from the starting lineup. Sharpshooter Sheyanne Street was a key reserve.

Sophomore Maliah Howard-Bass and junior Paige Littrell were All-Conference players, and junior Elle Williams was the other starter. Imani Guy, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, was the team’s top shot blocker.

“A number of people return,” McKee said. “We hope they can use their success this season as a springboard into future success.”

The biggest key for the Bull Dogs next year will be finding a point guard to replace Patberg. Junior Emily Kim saw some action at the point, and Littrell and Howard-Bass played the point in some offensive sets. Sophomore Karli Reynolds and freshman Kenzie Patberg (Ali’s sister) shared the point guard duties for a 19-0 junior varsity team.

“Obviously, Ali graduates, and obviously, we have a need for a point guard,” McKee said. “That’s what May, June, July, August, September and October are for. June will be a big month for us.”

Junior Amy Weisner, Reynolds and freshman Kat Norman played mostly JV this season and dressed for the tournament games. Freshman Kenzie Patberg, Kelsey Patberg, Jenna Borger and Liz Tynan also played JV and were part of the tournament roster.

“We had five freshmen that played full-time JV, and those freshmen had ability,” McKee said. “We have 12 players back, and I think all 12 have the ability to contribute at the varsity level.”

At a glance

Columbus North

Record: 28-1

Biggest wins: 48-40 at Bedford North Lawrence in regional, 69-60 vs. Lawrence North in semistate, 62-56 vs. Homestead in state finals

Worst loss: 64-60 (OT) vs. Lawrence North

Key losses: Ali Patberg, Debie Gedeon, Sheyanne Street

Starters returning: Maliah Howard-Bass, Paige Littrell, Elle Williams

Other key returners: Imani Guy, Emily Kim

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.