JIM PETERS: Cool is the new rule for LaPorte girls basketball

2013-12-19T17:00:00Z 2013-12-20T01:28:09Z JIM PETERS: Cool is the new rule for LaPorte girls basketballJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 19, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Cool is the new rule with LaPorte girls basketball.

The Slicers are 7-0, contenders for their first sectional title since 2001 and in the mix for a Duneland Athletic Conference crown, something the school has never won.

My, how times have changed.

Just four years ago, LaPorte finished 1-20 for the second straight season; volleyball was consuming all the athletes, and players were staying away in droves.

"It wasn't cool to play girls basketball at LaPorte," Slicers coach Skeeter Heath said. "Nobody on the team even came to basketball camp, let alone played AAU."

Even before then, Heath saw light at the end of the tunnel, a glimmer that actually started from within his own home.

His daughter Jaclyn, all 5-feet of her, was a budding star at the younger levels, where her teams were enjoying considerable success.

"It's a lot more fun to win than lose," coach Heath said. "Eventually, more kids got into it, and it took off from there."

Jaclyn is now a senior, as are Taylor Thompson, Delanie Alcorn and Kelsey Gushrowski. All four played as freshmen. LaPorte went 7-14. Heath started from day one. The others all started by their sophomore seasons. The 13-9 record was the school's best since the late 1990s.

"I'm really happy for these girls, this group of seniors," Heath said. "You've got people telling you you're no good, your team stinks. It's not easy for kids to stand up to that. They put their necks out there and stuck with it. I have a lot of appreciation for them."

The momentum is growing, too. A strong sophomore class and a freshman group led by Nicole Konieczny have given Heath flexibility he hasn't had since he took over in 2003. The Slicers have size with three 6-footers and depth with an eight-player rotation.

"Before we had Kyleigh (Kubik) and Nicole, the only person who was able to handle the ball was Jaclyn," Heath said.

Kubik was lost for the 2012-13 season in the second game, yet LaPorte won 13 games, seven of its nine losses coming against Merrillville, Michigan City and Lake Central. After a successful summer, Heath knew big things were in store for this winter.

"This isn't a surprise to us," he said. "Our first eight, they all play AAU. The majority of them are on two teams. A lot of the girls put a lot of time into their games and it obviously shows with their skill level and basketball knowledge. Sometimes, you have one, but not the other. We have both."

Assistant coach Doug Konieczny has been a big help, coaching the younger group in the off-season. There's talent and interest at the middle school level, suggesting LaPorte's run won't be a short one.

"We're in a position where we should be able to stay competitive, maybe not where we are this year, but at least the upper half of the DAC," Heath said. "If you can do that, you know you're pretty good."

The time has also come when it's not predetermined what sport LaPorte girls will play when they get to ninth grade.

"There was a concept here where if you played a certain sport, and I don't need to tell you what it is, then you couldn't play any others," Heath said. "We've got several multi-sport athletes. We're going to give kids opportunities, but we're not going to force them to choose."

The program's success will take care of that.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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