Familiar foes return to girls' state title weekend
This year's girls' state basketball championships have a familiar look.
Seven of the eight teams playing in Terre Haute on Saturday, have played previously for state titles. Three of last year's champions are back to try to defend their crowns. One of the top Miss Basketball candidates in the state, Evansville Mater Dei's Maura Muensterman, will headline the Class 3A game. And Bedford North Lawrence coach Damon Bailey is trying to help his hometown school win a fourth girls' title nearly one-quarter century after he led the same school to its only boys' state title - as the best prep player in the state in 1990.
It will be a busy day of basketball, with four games Saturday.
Booking a trip to the Indiana's girls' state basketball championship has become part of the regular routine at some schools.
On Saturday, Heritage Christian will make its sixth appearance in 10 years. Evansville Mater Dei is chasing a three-peat. Bedford North Lawrence is chasing back-to-back titles and Class 1A power Oregon-Davis is making its second state title appearance in seven years.
And it never gets old.
"It's what all these girls dream of," Oregon-Davis coach Terry Minix said. "This is what you play for. This is what it all comes down to."
It starts with Minix leading Oregon-Davis (22-2) into the day's first game against Vincennes-Rivet (22-4), where experience may not be a big deal. Oregon-Davis won its only state title in 2007. Vincennes-Rivet is back in the title game for the fifth time in six years but has only come away with one title, in 2011.
Minix isn't changing a thing.
"You can't reinvent the wheel," he said. "When you get to this point in the season, it has to be business as usual."
Other coaches are following the same philosophy.
Heritage Christian (26-1) hasn't deviated from its normal routine this week, either.
Coach Rick Risinger is sticking to the game plan that has helped the Eagles win 18 straight as they try to win their first state title since claiming four consecutive 2A titles form 2006-09. To do that, they'll have to knock Fort Wayne Canterbury (20-4), which is trying to win its third straight 2A title.
"We know they've got a great team," Risinger said. "The teams playing this time of year all have something special about them. But that doesn't mean you throw out your game plans. You can't change who you are simply because you're in the state finals."
Mater Dei (26-1) has already won two state titles with Indiana-bound Muensterman leading the charge. The Miss Basketball candidate comes into this 3A title game averaging 22.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists. The Wildcats are facing the only newcomer to championship weekend, Western (22-3), a school that has never won a state title in any sport.
Coach Steve Goans is keeping it simple.
"We try not to talk about the things we can't control. We focus on what we can," he said. "That's what we've done all year and it's what we'll do (Saturday)."
But the final game of the night may draw the most interest.
Bailey, the former Indiana University star and a Mr. Basketball Award winner, is now coaching his two daughters at the school he led to a boys' state title in 1990.
Bedford North Lawrence (26-1) also happens to be the defending 4A champ. Bailey has the Stars in position to defend their title, even as the IHSAA looks into complaints that students at the school engaged in racially charged behavior during last weekend's semistate victory over Lawrence North.
Penn (25-1), a perennial football power, has won 16 straight and reached the 4A title game in 2011. But it has never won a girls basketball crown, something coach Kristi Kaniewski knows will be difficult to change.
"They're a perfect basketball team, inside and out," she said. "That's about as simple as you can explain it. I'm expecting them to be exactly who they have been all season."
Staying true to the system and beliefs that got you to Terre Haute, the state championship veterans believe, is the key to winning.
"All you do in March is watch basketball," Minix said. "What's exciting about this part of March is, it's the last leg of the journey for these girls."
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