Girls basketball: There’s a method to Lowell coach’s madness
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org December 27, 2012 10:32PM
Lowell coach Matt Welsh speaks with Nicole Sharkey and Sarah Wieser during the Carroll Christmas Classic on Saturday, December 15, 2012. | Mark Smith~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 29, 2013 6:41AM
It took a while for Lowell’s girls basketball players to get used to first-year coach Matthew Welsh.
Who can blame them. For the previous two years, Catherine Antcliff did just fine leading the Red Devils — 31 wins in those two campaigns and a Northwest Crossroads title last year after the Devils had won 16 games in the previous four years combined.
She was a calming influence most of the time, and the players responded to her.
But Antcliff stepped away from her position for personal reasons, so in steps Welsh, who had coached boys at South Newton for last three years.
The well-traveled coach has also been an assistant under two different coaches at Crown Point, and has stops at Lawrence North, Shelbyville and Anderson.
Coaching boys is quite different than coaching girls, but if you observe just a few minutes of one of his practices with Lowell’s girls, you couldn’t tell if he was coaching boys or girls.
The frequent clapping of his hands and yelling positives, negatives and constructive criticism — it all has a purpose.
“Come on Sarah!” he screams at guard Sarah Wietbrock. “Don’t let up.”
“We’re going to get some man-to-man,” he yelled after a failed defensive sequence before stating an observation laced with sarcasm. “That either sucks defensively or we’re just real good offensively.”
Players aren’t relegated to responding to a single type of leader.
His methods seem unorthodox — part cheerleader, part instructor, part disciplinarian.
But the proof that it’s working is in the record: nine straight wins to start the season and 3-0 in the NCC as the defending champs.
“It seems like he’s on us more about everything,” said senior point guard Kalyne Godbolt about her coach. “We never get away with anything. At first it was hard to get used to getting screamed at in practice. He’s intense and it makes us more intense.”
That intensity has led to that defense Welsh pushes in practice giving up less than 28 points per game, which is more than a 10-point improvement from last year when the Devils went 18-4.
That intensity hasn’t only made its mark with the zero in the loss column. Welsh’s intensity has led to some entertainment during games.
“He’s almost left a dent stomping on the floor with his dress shoes,” said Godbolt, pointing toward where the home bench area would be during a home game.
The players are the same as last season, and Welsh appreciates that fact after admitting it was a rebuilding situation at South Newton the last couple years.
“It was refreshing when we got here,” Welsh said, referring to his staff that includes his dad. “The pieces are in place with six seniors. We changed a lot of stuff. Defense … that’s where it starts.”
Those seniors understand Welsh isn’t necessarily better than Antcliff — just different.
“Last year it felt like we were dogging it at times,” said senior Carley Austgen. “He’s pushing us to our full potential.”
Well, actually, one player sees some familiarity in Welsh.
“He’s the same personality as my dad,” said senior forward Katie Bobos, referring to her father, Kevin, who played an important role on the 1988 Bishop Noll boys team that reached the final four in the state tourney.
And just like Katie’s dad, there’s one aspect of the game that Welsh admires more than the other.
“He loves defense,” Bobos said. “The first week (of practice) it was kind of shaky. He was yelling ‘defense, defense, defense.’ We didn’t get it at first, but only giving up 20 to 30 points a game to good teams convinced us. The team concept of defense — I don’t think we got that before, and then we saw how it worked.”
Welsh’s impact isn’t just about wins and losses, Xs and Os or a lack of points scored by the opposition. It’s resulted in a bit of an attitude change that could have happened with or without a new coach. But it just seems more intense, just like Welsh’s personality.
“I don’t recognize that we’re 9-0 — we have a bigger purpose and that’s winning a sectional,” Wietbrock said.
Godbolt agreed: “We haven’t really gone far in the sectional, so every day we have that in our heads to work harder toward that goal.”
Welsh’s motivational mantra won’t let the players forget that goal.