When Emma and Sophia Nolan walked through the doors of Marquette Catholic's Scholl Center as freshmen, great expectations for the twins and the Blazers followed them.
For all the talents of the St. Louis recruits, state titles aspirations were still a lot to put on the shoulders of a young team that won two sectionals and a regional in its first two years, but was widely believed to have fallen short of the bar.
"The last two years, we faltered a little earlier than expected," coach Katie Collignon said before Tuesday's tournament tipoff.
Collignon wasn't at the Class A Michigan City school two years ago when the Blazers bowed out in the regional. They easily cleared that hurdle last season before falling in double overtime in the semistate.
As the postseason began, they stood as the prohibitive favorite to capture the state title, its 39.3 percent rating by Indiana prep basketball statistican John Harrell second only to 3A Northwestern (50.4). Top-ranked Marquette (20-2) is the only A/2A team in the open-class top 20 and one of only two not from 4A in the poll. Then again, that and a $1 will get them a 12-ounce cup of coffee at Speedway.
"(Monday) at practice, I told them I hope they enjoyed being 20-2 over the weekend. We're all 0-0 now," Collignon said. "I was quick to tell them nobody cares that we're ranked No. 1. It all doesn't matter. We could lose tomorrow. Most people think I'm a pretty positive person, but when it comes to this, I'm actually pretty negative. You have to come back down to reality."
Not that Collignon felt overly compelled to drive the point home.
"They're pretty grounded," she said. "They know we have expectations, but they don't listen to or believe the hype. It doesn't mean anything. Their approach is a lot more business-like. They're a lot more composed. Two years in the tournament, it's not new. It's a good feeling to walk on the floor knowing they've been successful before. That's important."
Part of that comes with maturation. Part of it comes with a schedule that kept the Blazers on their toes. Being an independent forced Collignon to hustle to fill out a slate of games and she didn't go on a cupcake run. Marquette played nine 4A schools and five 3As, playing in two downstate holiday tourneys in the same week. While it still had its fair share of blowouts, there were enough competitive games mixed in to combat complacency.
"We were talking at the end of the year how we had a really tough game almost every week," Collignon said. "That made it easier to coach. They were more focused as a team. You get a familiarity with a team playing them three times. A lot of schools were unknown to us. We didn't know anything about them going into the game. That's why you get a different schedule."
All projections point to a doozy of championship game with Indianapolis Tindley, Vincennes Rivet or Jac-Cen-Del — I'm going with Tindley — but Collignon's doing her best to keep blinders on her Blazers.
"They're another year older, another year together on the court," she said. "They appreciate it more. Last year, we weren't really together as a team, our system, our defense, until the regional. We're further along. We're not going to overlook any team. We're going to take it game to game and go from there. I don't want them to look back and say woulda, shoulda, coulda. We're going to enjoy every moment."