Girls basketball: Portage learning to close the deal
BY JOHN O’MALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent December 20, 2012 11:28PM
Portage's Nicki Monahan moves past Hobart's Kara Cooke to the basket in the second quarter at Hobart High School Tuesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 22, 2013 10:10AM
Chris Seibert was understandably disappointed when Portage won only five of 23 games last year.
The Indians lost eight games by seven points or less, and three others by eight points.
After the season, Seibert and his staff sat down to identify what the team needed to improve on to win more of those close games.
Sure, they wanted to play better defense, box out more on the boards, take better care of the ball and improve their overall scoring balance.
Most of all, though, they needed to find a way to finish games stronger.
“We needed to improve upon our margin of error, so the game just wouldn’t come down to the final one or two possessions,’’ Seibert said.
Prior to the start of this season, the team’s motto became to “Finish.”
“Finish every fastbreak, every drill, even every stretch,’’ Seibert said. “We try to finish every blockout, defensive stop, finish quarters and finish games.’’
The Indians are definitely “finishing” stronger with much more regularity.
Portage is 7-3 overall, including 4-3 in the tough Duneland Athletic Conference.
The Indians have won the fourth quarter in nine of their 10 games.
The team’s signature win came Wednesday night when it knocked off Lake Central, 46-36.
“That was a real big win for our kids, especially for the way we did it,’’ Seibert said. “We had three of our starters out the whole second quarter (Kaitlin Dowd, Hannah Glos and Alexis Johnson) with two fouls each, but three kids came off the bench and played well.’’
Early-season road wins over East Chicago Central and Hobart also served as huge confidence-builders.
“I’d say those two wins were the two big ones that really helped us toward taking that next step,’’ Seibert said.
Senior guard Nicki Monahan, who leads the Indians in scoring (14.8), steals (29) and is second in assists (31) loves the way the team is playing.
“It’s definitely exciting,’’ she said. “We put in a lot of work in the offseason. We’ve improved a lot since last year. Everyone is contributing. It’s definitely been a team effort. We have more scoring threats than we did before. Our defense has improved and we’re doing a lot of the little things right.
“Winning is a lot more fun. We’ve already won more games than we did last year.’’
Since the first team meeting, Seibert and his staff preached being able to finish games stronger.
Monahan, who started playing basketball as a pre-schooler in Portage’s Youth Basketball League, said the entire team has embraced the motto.
It’s become a unifying theme.
“It’s definitely important to finish — you have to finish everything,’’ she said. “A lot of games are decided at the end, so it could come down to one thing that we didn’t do.’’
Dowd, only a sophomore, said the team believes in the motto.
“Even in practice we live by it,’’ she said. “Being able to finish is being able to keep fighting and push through things even when we’ve hit the wall. It’s being able to go out and execute the things you’re supposed to do both physically and mentally.
“We’ve grown in that area. We’re all better physically, and every single player is definitely more into the game mentally. It’s become one of our strengths.’’
Having players the caliber of Monahan and Dowd only helps.
“Nicki’s a very smart player,’’ Seibert said. “Her intelligence is her greatest asset, because everything she does, feeds off of that. She understands how to read defenses and read screens. I think we’ve seen every defense we could on her. She’s done a great job of seeing the floor and finding her teammates this year. Her leadership is not always the most vocal, but she leads by example. She speaks a lot in practices and in huddles. The kids continue to believe that as long as they continue to work hard, they can be successful.’’
Dowd, who has a 4.1 grade-point average, has grown as a player, too.
Even though she’s the team’s defensive stopper, her scoring (9.8) and rebounding (4.7) averages have increased.
“We usually put her on the best player,’’ Seibert said. “She has the size (5-10) and athletic ability where she’s quick enough to defend guards, or post players. Her versatility has been a great asset to our team and allows us to use her in a multi-faceted role defensively. It also allows her to match up with some of the best players in the area, which helps her to keep improving.’’
Seibert said he couldn’t be happier for his team at this point, but wants to see his players continue to improve.
“They’re great kids and they continue to believe in what we’re trying to teach them,’’ he said. “I’m just glad that they’re finally starting to reap the benefits of all their hard work.’’