MICHIGAN CITY — It's not always easy being at the top.
Just ask Marquette Catholic coach Katie Collignon who's been met with fans and parents telling her they've made hotel reservations near Indianapolis months before the state title game.
"It was the biggest exhale on Saturday (after semistate)," she said. "People have been telling me they're booking hotels and I'm all 'well, we got a big game on Saturday and thank you for your support, but you're gonna give me a heart attack.' We've been trying to keep 12 girls and myself level headed and make sure we take it game-by-game and moment-by-moment.
"Being No. 1 in the preseason and staying there all year has been great, but with that comes high expectations. I'm pretty pessimistic with the girls, telling them I don't believe the hype and they've done a great job carrying themselves and being humble. I'm so happy we've made it this far and now that we got here, there's still one more game to win. It's exciting for the school and the program and I can stop knocking on wood, finally."
The Blazers ended up a game away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2017, falling in double overtime to Union City. They've used that loss to stoke a fire that's led to the program's first state title game on Saturday against No. 2 Vincennes Rivet, a team making its sixth appearance.
"The heartbreak that happened last year opened our eyes to see how fast it can be taken away from us, even when we were favored to win last year," Collignon said. "It brought everyone back down to earth. The girls really do focus on each and every play and moment and they've done a really great job this year of working hard every day in practice to bring us to this point now."
The team will try to meld a mindset getting the job done and having some fun.
"There's a lot of excitement, energy, nerves and hype around this game, and you can't control that and I don't want to either," she said. "This might be the only time this gets to happen for them so I want them to enjoy the moment and make it a great memory and have it be a positive experience. I'll try to lay-off by business-like approach a little bit, but once the ball is tipped, hopefully we bring that same focus and energy we've brought all year."
Their first year out of the Greater South Shore Conference allowed the Blazers to beef up their schedule. They've played top 4A teams like Lake Central and South Bend St. Joseph and several Illinois schools.
"Every week we had to have a focus because we had a tough game, and I thought that was really good for our girls because there wasn't any lax," Collignon said. "It made it a lot easier to coach, because every week I can tell them if we don't show up, we could get beat."
While Marquette owns the fourth highest average margin of victory in the state at 29.54, its handful of close games could prove vital in likely its closest game of the year.
"We were 10 down against St. Joe and came back. You remember those gritty moments and use them as confidence builders knowing we've been in close games before and that'll be okay," Collignon said. "We go over those kinds of situations every day in practice and we want to have plays for those situations, so the girls can rise up and overcome. That'll help us Saturday."
On the other side of the coin, the Blazers have ripped through the postseason having won their six games by an average of 36 points.
"Games have been a wide range because of our defense," she said. "It's not like we're pressing and putting up 98 points and then winning by 40. We hear we haven't played a close game and that's because the other team only scored 15 points, that's how we won by 40. I'm not going to tell my kids not to play defense, so it's a little different in that sense. As a coach, that makes me feel better because defense is effort and focus, and we bring that every day. If the shots aren't falling, we can hang our hat on our defense."
While Collignon wants to have her team as ready as possible, she also wants to ensure the team plays the same style they've embraced all season.
"If we can settle in early and not let those jitters last numerous minutes, then I think we'll be fine," she said. "As a coach, you want to have them so prepared all the time but I've realized with this group that you don't want to give them too much. I still want them to play and give them the freedom so we're going to find a balance of being 100-percent prepared but feeling comfortable and relaxed at the same time."