Coming off Conference Indiana, sectional, regional and semi-state championships and a Class 4A state runner-up finish, the Columbus North girls basketball team wants to get better.
With a tougher schedule and a big target on their backs, though, the Bull Dogs will need to be at the top of their game to duplicate or exceed last year’s success.
“Certainly, there was a lot of success last year, and we don’t want to ignore it,” North coach Pat McKee said. “But it’s a different team. We have to kind of start over. We have a lot of new players. We’re going to have to work hard and learn our success again.”
McKee led the Bull Dogs to a 23-4 record in his second season with the program. After a 4-3 start, North won 19 games in a row before falling to North Central 50-48 in overtime in the state title game.
Columbus North Bull Dogs
Last year’s record: 23-4
Coach: Pat McKee
Key losses: Quin Shoultz, Becca Brougher, Gabby Sims
Returning starters: 5-10 sophomore Ali Patberg (12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg), 5-9 junior Tayler Goodall (12.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg), 5-9 junior Kelsey Cunningham (5.5 ppg, 2.9 spg), 5-10 senior Hanna Ballard (8.4 ppg)
Other key returners: 5-9 junior Emmy Schabel (0.8 ppg), 6-0 sophomore Jessica Wagers (1.1 ppg)
Four starters return from that squad, including leading scorers and All-Conference Indiana selections Ali Patberg and Tayler Goodall, both of whom averaged 12.9 points a game. Patberg, a 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard, has several college offers, and NCAA powers such as Connecticut, Stanford, Duke and Notre Dame have come to Columbus to watch her practice.
Goodall and Kelsey Cunningham, both 5-9 juniors, also have multiple Division I offers. Cunningham averaged 5.5 points and led North with 2.9 steals.
“Ali, Taylor and Kelsey, I think have made strides in their game,” McKee said. “They worked really hard all spring and summer and fall and there’s no doubt in my mind they’re better than they were in March.”
Hanna Ballard (8.4 ppg), a 5-10 post player, is the only other Bull Dog with significant varsity experience. The team’s lone senior is coming off ACL surgery and was recently cleared to play.
“She’s transitioning back into basketball shape,” McKee said. “Hanna, certainly because of her experience, has a leg up (on a starting spot).”
Hannah Poindexter, a 5-10 sophomore, saw plenty of action during North’s summer season, which included a high-level tournament in Maryland. Also back from last year’s tournament roster are 5-9 junior Emmy Schabel, 6-0 sophomore Jessica Wagers, 5-0 sophomore Macy Wingham, 5-8
sophomore Sheyanne Street and 5-9 sophomore Debie Gedeon, all who saw primarily junior varsity action last season.
Newcomers to the varsity/JV pool include 5-7 sophomore Megan Bandy, 5-5 sophomore Sydney Patberg, 5-11 freshman Elle Williams, 5-7 freshman Emma Ballard and 5-10 freshman Paige Littrell.
“We worked hard over the summer to give players as much opportunity as possible to develop their games,” McKee said. “We know who our top players are, but we’re seeking some consistency about our support group.”
The Bull Dogs will face a stiffer schedule in 2012-13. Dec. 21-22, they’ll host the Subway Columbus North Invitational, which includes Avon, Fort Wayne Canterbury, Fort Wayne South, Mishawaka, Norwell, Notre Dame Academy (Ky.) and Roncalli.
North will play perennial power Hamilton Southeastern Dec. 27 in the semifinals of the prestigious Hall of Fame Tournament at New Castle. Logansport and Evansville Mater Dei are the other two teams in the field.
Then on Jan. 3, Chicago Whitney Young, the defending Illinois big-school state champion, comes to town. Whitney Young went 36-0 and was ranked No. 2 in country last season.
“We’re playing enough challenging opponents that we could have losses,” McKee said. “We have to play well, and when we do play well, we have a nice group. Most of our opponents are pretty challenging, and if we play off our game, they’re good enough to win.
“The real goal is getting ready for postseason,” he said. “We just need to go back to what we did last year, and that’s play every play and play every game as well as we can. Last year’s team really bought into the philosophy and thrived because of it.”