While the girl's basketball season may have just started, the intensity is sure to be high this Friday night as the Putnam County Tournament kicks off at South Putnam High School,
Cloverdale and North Putnam kick the tournament off at 6 p.m. with Greencastle and South Putnam following. The third place game is set for 6 p.m. Saturday with the championship following.
Cloverdale vs. North Putnam
North Putnam enters the tournament at 3-2, while Cloverdale is 0-4.
According to North Putnam coach Curtis Lawrence, the season is off to a "good start" for the Cougars, who have won three straight.
"We have had contributions from all of our players," Lawrence told The Putnam County Post.
As for Cloverdale, the Clovers are seeking their first county title since 2020 and their first win of the season.
"The season has been a challenge thus far. We have a lot of injuries and have had to play a short bench with inexperienced athletes. That said, the girls have been working extremely hard and we have been competitive at times. These circumstances will only help us grow depth," Cloverdale coach J.J. Wade told The Putnam County Post.
Both coaches admit they are approaching this week the same as any other.
"We are simply trying to work on us and get better. It will be new for some to be in the County Tournament environment, but, ultimately, we are still trying to find the right lineup and positions with who we have available. We know it is a long season and we are striving to trust each other to get better every day," Wade said.
Lawrence said North Putnam won't do anything out of the ordinary this week and is trying to keep it as business as usual.
"With it being early in the season, regardless of the results, there is a lot of season left," he said.
So, what can fans expect?
"North Putnam plays a deep rotation, presses and gets up and down the floor. Coach Lawrence will certainly have his team ready. We know we need to take care of the basketball and play solid defense to give ourselves a chance to play Saturday," Wade said.
For the Cougars, Lawrence said they need to come out and play the same way they have the last three times out.
"Coach Wade does a wonderful job with his program and they will be ready to play. We have to come out and do what we’ve done this season," he said.
Both coaches admit, it would be special to hold the trophy at the end of the tournament.
"Anytime you can win a championship for your school and community, it is special since that is who we are playing for," Wade said.
Lawrence echoed those sentiments.
"Obviously, winning the County Tourney is important. It’s one of the goals that we set as a team, as did the other county schools. All four programs want to hold the trophy after Saturday night. The team that plays two complete games will be the ones that get to do that," Lawrence said.
Greencastle vs. South Putnam
The night cap features a Greencastle team searching for its first win under a first year head coach taking on the host Eagles, who are 2-2 on the season.
Greencastle enters 0-4 under Jessica Lenihan, who admits the Tiger Cubs opened with four "competitive" games.
"We are slowly putting the missing pieces together we have struggled to find in the first 3 games. We have been putting in the work to find ways to mesh as a team, and I think we were finally able to in our previous game, against a tough competitor, Brown County. The girls fought hard and gave it all they had to a really good team," Lenihan said.
Leading the way for Greencastle has been Evie Broines, who has been playing with a "leader mentality," according to her coach.
"I believe that is helping our girls out. She's been handling the ball with a lot more confidence and she is working hard to score. I think Aleeyah Johnson and Ali Dobbs are gaining confidence as well with handling the ball. Both are playing outstanding defense as well. Madi Plew is taking on a new role this year with playing on the outside perimeter and has hit a couple of big shots. Bailey Brown is so strong down low and we are trusting her in the paint to get us some big baskets. As a coaching staff, we are very impressed with our freshman class this year, especially Sarah Simmerman. In the previous game against Brown County, Sarah stepped up and played solid defense and even contributed with nine points. We have been getting better and better each week and we know our first win is right around the corner," Lenihan said.
As for the Eagles, who have lost two straight, head coach Brian Gardner said he has gotten solid play out of Danae Cline and Chlara Pistelli, as well as Madison Gardner.
Both coaches acknowledge there is extra pressure that comes with the county tournament, but they are trying to keep the focus on improving.
"Because the county is early in the year, it is good to focus on your team as much as possible. We talk a lot about working on things that we have to fix about ourselves this early in the year, which allows you to talk about those things all week while you are preparing for the game. Having a team that the juniors have played in this weekend before, they understand the game has a lot of runs in it and you have to have a next play mentality," Gardner said.
Lenihan said there is the extra pressure, but admits she has preached to the girls to treat the county like any other game.
"We need to stick to our game plan and not let that pressure change how we view and approach these games. We have to be business as usual," she said.
While the two have not played each other yet this season, the two coaches note the opponent looks strong.
"Greencastle is a good basketball team. Even though they have not won a game, they do good things on the court. Briones is very good in the open court and can shoot the ball well. We will have to make sure they are not able to get easy looks and that they do not get loose in the open court," Gardner said.
As for the Eagles, Lenihan said, they will be "very tough and well coached."
"They are very athletic, aggressive and we have to do a good job of slowing them down. If we can stick to our game plan and execute what we have worked on so far this year, I am confident we can get the win," Lenihan said.
And, what would it mean to win the county?
"Winning the county is always a goal for our team just like it is for the rest of the county. It means a lot to the girls to have the opportunity to cut down the net this early in the year," Gardner said.
"It would be a huge accomplishment for this group of girls if we could win county. Coming off such a successful season last year, these girls have felt the pressure of trying to live up to that. It is no secret that we lost over 40 points a game in scoring between two of our previous players, so our girls have had to step up and work extra hard to fill that big scoring void we lost. Winning the county tournament would show everyone how hard we have been working this season and it would give these girls a big lift of confidence going into the rest of the season," Lenihan said.