MEMORIAL Gym has hosted boys basketball games since the mid-1950s and girls basketball since the early-1970s.
Never before, however, have both Columbus North programs enjoyed so much success at the same time as they have in the 2012-13 season.
The girls are 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in both state polls and No. 8 in the country by USA Today heading into Saturday’s regional semifinal showdown at No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence. The boys are 19-1 and ranked No. 2 in both state polls going into tonight’s home game against Bloomington North.
“It’s not normal, and it’s out of the ordinary,” Garry Donna, who is in his 43rd year of publishing Hoosier Basketball Magazine, said of one school having such highly ranked boys and girls teams. “It’s not unprecedented, but it is an exception.”
The girls took over the top spot in the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association 4A poll after a late-December win over then- No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern. The boys have been slowly climbing the ladder during their 15-game winning streak.
Jeff Hester, the Bull Dogs’ athletics director, couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s obviously very exciting,” Hester said. “The goal is to always have your teams competing at the highest level. Once you’re being ranked at a statewide level, that’s definitely a bonus.”
Not only have the girls achieved top state rankings, they’ve been moving up the ladder in the national polls. North is No. 8 in this week’s USA Today poll and No. 17 in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure per se, but there’s ‘Hey, let’s try to do as well as they are,’ or ‘Set the bar to make them come up,’” said girls coach Pat McKee, who also is the school’s sports information director. “A number of boys are at our games. A number of girls go to their games. There’s a real mutual respect.”
The teams feature a pair of brother-sister combos. Junior Kelsey Cunningham is the starting point guard for the girls, and her brother Clint, a senior, is the boys’ sixth man. Freshman Paige Littrell is the first guard off the bench for the girls, while her brother Nick, a junior, dresses varsity for the boys.
“It’s very exciting,” said Pam Cunningham, mother of Clint and Kelsey. “It keeps us busy all the time and is just so much fun to think that they’re both having a good year, and all the kids are working hard. I would have never guessed that their teams would have done this well. I’m very excited for all of the kids. It takes teamwork from all the players to make it happen, and it’s just so much fun to watch them all.”
While the boys feature seven players 6-foot-5 or taller, the girls don’t have a player taller than 5-10 in their top eight.
“Obviously, the first thing you have to have a lot of talent, and No. 2, you have to have good coaching,” Donna said. “Ordinarily, you have to have a good point guard. The girls have that (in sophomore Ali Patberg). The boys have had some people do the job, but they don’t have a natural point guard like the girls do.
“The interesting thing is, while the boys team doesn’t have a true point guard, they have some size, whereas the girls team doesn’t have any size,” he said. “They’re ranked similar, and they have similar talent levels, but they’re different-type teams. The girls in particular, they make you beat them.”
Donna noted the importance of coaches Jason Speer and McKee and their staffs.
“They’re having a banner year on both sides, and I think that’s a testament to their coaching staffs,” he said. “You can have talent; but if you don’t play to your strengths, you’re not going to be successful.”
McKee said he and Speer talk from time to time, not about every detail, but basketball things.
“We are very supportive of one another,” McKee said. “The benefits of them being good certainly helps us, and I hope that us being good helps them.”
The success of the boys and girls programs hasn’t been limited to the varsity level. The JV girls went 17-0, and the freshmen went 15-1 with only a one-point loss to Roncalli. The JV boys are 15-1.
“It’s obviously a lot of fun when both groups are having success,” Speer said. “Success breeds more success, and the attitude right now with the kids is really good. I think last year, with everybody being connected from a basketball standpoint and the relationships that we’ve built between the two coaching staffs, I do think there is some carry-over there.”