Coming into this season, there may have been a handful of naysayers predicting that the Columbus North girls basketball team would take a big step back with last year’s All-American senior Ali Patberg having moved on to Notre Dame.
Any such doubters have already been proven dead wrong. While it remains to be seen whether the Bull Dogs can defend their Class 4A state championship, it’s clear that they are on the short list of contenders.
Additionally, at 14-0, this year’s North team could still potentially do something last year’s edition didn’t — finish with an unbeaten record.
The Bull Dogs finished last season with 25 consecutive wins, so it might be easy to forget that there was a blemish on their record (a 64-60 overtime loss, later avenged, against Lawrence North). This year, Columbus North had another early season showdown with the Wildcats, pulling out a 46-44 victory at the buzzer.
That hasn’t been the only close call for coach Pat McKee’s club this winter. North also pulled out last-second wins at East Central and against Seymour.
There have been no close shaves since, though, with the Bull Dogs winning their past six games by an average of 28.5 points. Included in that stretch were a 42-point rout of rival Columbus East and last week’s 67-52 triumph against previously unbeaten Penn, the No. 3 team in Class 4A.
While the wins against Lawrence North and Penn were certainly impressive, Columbus North still has quite a gauntlet to run if it hopes to even finish the regular season without a loss.
I’m sure McKee would be loath to let his team look more than one game ahead, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t have a little fun speculating.
Both of the next two opponents — Jennings County tonight and Southport on Thursday — have winning records, and Saturday brings a trip to Kentucky to face one of the Bluegrass State’s top teams, Franklin County. The 10-1 Flyers suffered their first defeat of the season this past weekend.
On Jan. 19, Columbus North faces another tough test at Class 3A No. 2 Heritage Christian. The 11-1 Eagles, who have lost only to Lawrence North, are third in the state Sagarin ratings — two spots ahead of the Bull Dogs.
Then, on Jan. 28, North closes out the regular season with a home game against Class 4A No. 4 Roncalli, whose only setbacks have come against Heritage Christian in overtime and against the state No. 1 Homestead.
So even reaching sectional play with a zero in the loss column is far from a given. Only two of the nine remaining opponents have sub-.500 records (7-9 Franklin and 1-13 Bloomington North), so there are several potential landmines littering the path to perfection.
Reach that point, and there’s still the state tournament to slog through. So we’re still only about halfway through this hypothetical perfect season, with the toughest stretch of road still to be traveled.
It could be a long, bumpy ride. But it’s going to be an incredibly exciting one.
Who else is on board?
Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.