WESTPORT – One of the goals South Decatur’s girls set before the season was to win the Civil War basketball game.
Barring any changes – which you can never predict these days – the Cougars will get a shot to put a checkmark next to that goal on Friday, Dec. 4.
It will be their first game back since the county instituted a shutdown on athletics, which included practices and games, from Nov. 17-29.
South went 2-2 before the shutdown under first-year coach Tyler Johnson. Things are looking promising after the Cougars went 5-19 a year ago, including going winless in six Mid-Hoosier Conference games.
“I think the girls are getting it,” said Johnson, who coached North Decatur’s JV girls the past three seasons. “They’re really driven and passionate about trying to improve and get better. They’re buying into what we’re doing, which is good and all you can ask for.”
The Cougars start four seniors (Lana Bell, Allison Boilanger, Megan Manlief and Erynn Dyer) and one junior (Loryn Pate).
Bell is a returning all-conference selection who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. The power forward is averaging 19.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
“She’s one of those players who can play inside or outside,” Johnson said of Bell. “She doesn’t shoot a lot from 3, but she has the ability to stretch the defense out there.”
Dyer is second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.0 points. She’s tied for second in rebounding with Pate at 5.3 per contest.
Dyer is back playing hoops again for the Cougars after not playing last season. She’s drained seven 3-pointers, which has really aided the Cougars’ offense against zones.
“Her ability to shoot the 3 is really helpful,” Johnson said of Dyer. “Even for the girls underneath, it helps stretch them out since a lot of teams in our area play zone a lot. With Lana down there, it’s easy to pack it in a 2-3. But if you’ve got some shooters from the outside, it changes what they can do. She’s been a good player.”
Pate leads the way in assists at 3.0 and is third in scoring at 8.3. She’s a versatile player, Johnson said, who can play on the wing or bring the ball up the floor if needed.
“She’s been an impactful player for us,” Johnson said.
Manlief and sophomore Mary Gasper are also scoring and rebounding contributors. Manlief is also tied with Dyer for team-high steals honors at 1.5 per game.
The Cougars’ roster consists of 14 players between the varsity and junior varsity teams. Five of those are seniors, including Abby Wheeler. She doesn’t have a lot of varsity experience, but Johnson said she works very hard and leads by example.
“She’s really good to have on the team,” he said. “She’s kind of the glue that keeps us together.”
Players are allowed to participate in a maximum of five quarters per night. Johnson has been busy shuffling players around, and many split two quarters on JV and three on varsity, or vice versa.
“We don’t have anybody sitting out long periods of time” he said. “Nobody complains about playing time.”
Both of the Cougars’ losses have come against MHC foes. Southwestern Shelby was unconscious from behind the arc and went 13-for-20 from deep, blowing out the Cougars.
“Everything they threw up went in,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen a high school girls team do that.”
South also lost to Morristown 52-44. It was a very tight game until the Cougars had to foul down the stretch. Johnson noted it was a much more competitive game compared to last year, when the Yellow Jackets won by 27 points.
The Cougars opened this season with a 58-42 win at Milan. They went on the road to beat Tri, who was ranked at the time, 55-52 in overtime.
Johnson has transitioned the Cougars to learning how to play man-to-man defense, after they’ve traditionally played mostly zone in the past.
Southwestern racked up 92 points, but it was the second game of the season.
“That was a learning experience to say the least,” Johnson said.
South allowed 52 points in each of its games since, and the girls are getting more comfortable with knowing how to react and help each other.
They’ll return to practice Monday, before playing North Decatur Dec. 4 and traveling to Oldenburg Academy a day later. Tipoff for the Saturday game will occur at approximately 3 p.m.
While winning the Civil War game was a team goal, there was another major goal the team set before the season: winning sectional.
“That’s the main mission we’ve been preaching and talking about,” Johnson said. “Each game we use as a tool to prepare for it. Not that regular season games don’t matter, but these games are our preparation for that sectional.”
Despite the shutdown of official practices last week, the players haven’t lost their focus.
“We are not going to stop improving,” Manlief said, “and will continue to work towards our ultimate goal of winning the sectional this year.”