GIRLS BASKETBALL | SECTIONAL PREVIEW

Merrillville girls hoops have region's next shot to pursue perfection

2012-02-02T19:00:00Z 2012-05-27T04:04:54Z Merrillville girls hoops have region's next shot to pursue perfectionBy Hillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

In the history of the IHSAA girls basketball championship, 16 teams have finished the season with a perfect record.

The first from the region -- and only school from the area to do it twice -- was E.C. Roosevelt in 1977 and 1979, when the Rough Riderettes were 24-0 and 23-0 respectively.

In each of those first four years of state championship games, the winner handed the loser its first loss of the season.

In all, three region teams have finished with a perfect season, the last was Tom May's 1984 Crown Point state championship squad.

Lake Central was the next to come close, reaching the state final in 1998 with a 26-0 record before falling to undefeated Martinsville in the title game.

When Valparaiso appeared in the finals in 2000 and when Merrillville reached in 2010, both teams took with them one regular-season loss.

Pursuing that perfection is a tight rope to walk during the three-month season.

Some coaches like to use a loss as a way to shine a light on a team's weaknesses in order to buff out the blemishes.

"As a coach, you always learn more in losses than in wins," Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. "Two years ago, when we lost one regular-season game, it grounded us and made us more focused and we worked harder. Obviously, you'd much rather have a loss in the regular season than in the post season, but we go into ever game wanting to win -- obviously every team goes into every game wanting to win -- but the only bad thing is that we can't go back and say 'This is what we need to work on' when you have no losses. Now, when we get in the postseason, when we get a loss, that's it, so there's no tomorrow to fix this problem."

The area's next hope for an undefeated state champion is the state's Class 4A No. 3-ranked Pirates, who are just as surprised to be in the spot as anyone.

"I knew this team was going to be good, but that this team is undefeated, I didn't know that was coming," said senior Raveen Murray, who was a sophomore starter on the 2010 runner-up team.

The closest any team has come to knocking off the Pirates, whose average margin of victory this season is 21.9 points, was on Dec. 13 when Michigan City lost by five.

"The kids might have felt the pressure, but we never talked about the record," Govert said. "I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but as a staff we just made the decision and once we did, we were careful not to say anything. After we beat City the first time, we were (8-0) and when we beat Elkhart (Memorial), we said we're not going to talk about this.

"I don't know if other coaches talk about it or not, but we did tell them that every team coming out, it would make their season if they took us out. We talk about that as motivation."

Crown Point coach Annie Equihua was a junior on the 1984 unbeaten state title team. She remembers that as a player, being undefeated didn't matter when the team reached the postseason.

"As a player, I didn't feel any extra pressure being undefeated, because once you get to sectionals everything is 0-0, it doesn't matter what your record was," Equihua said. "As a coach, I'm looking at my team now, wow we don't have to worry about that, because we have seven losses, but when Penn lost, I'll be they were like, 'good, let's get that loss out of the way and now we're ready to go.'"

The last region girls team to finish the regular season undefeated was E.C. Central in 2002-03, which promptly lost in the sectional championship game to West Side.

"I think there's some pressure on a team to at least make somewhat of a run in the tournament, because I think no one wants to get the 'choke' label," said Bishop Noll boys coach Drew Trost, whose team last year went undefeated in the regular season and reached the state title game. "Bishop Noll has only ever had one other undefeated season, and that team lost in the first game in the sectionals. We wanted to make sure that didn't happen to us. The coaches I think more than the players, felt that added pressure."

Govert said that she wants to keep that pressure off of her team and the players said they don't feel it.

"We knew we could be pretty good at the beginning of the year," senior Jasmyne Miller said. "We all have fun. As long as we keep having fun, it's easy."

To maintain that undefeated record will take as much skill as it does luck, said Govert. Being two years removed from the last trip to the finals, the Pirates don't try to make analogies with the 2010 squad.

"We can't look into the past, because every year is different," she said. "In order to get to state, we have to have a good team and some luck on your side. You have to get the breaks and stay injury free. I don't think this team is really looking at that. Maybe with the seniors, they bring that expectation, knowing how that feels, but this is a completely different team than it was two years ago."

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