WASHINGTON TWP. | The last time the Washington Township girls basketball team won a sectional title, Heather Burton was in the first grade.
Fast-forward 10 years and the now-junior guard is at the helm of a 9-2 Senators team looking to post their first winning record since 2008-09. Fresh off a Mid-Winter Classic title and a 60-point win over South Bend Career Academy, the Senators are riding a five-game winning streak and hoping to translate that momentum over the next two weeks into the Porter County Conference tournament.
Burton was named the Most Valuable Player of the Mid-Winter Classic and has already scored the ninth-most points in school history with nearly a season and a half left in her career.
“She’s been a key. She’s been one of our leaders since I took over. She’s been our leader on offense,” first-year head coach Chris Tomcsi said. “There have been games that we’ve needed her to take over and she’s done that, and there have been games that she’s been able to sit back and let her teammates do a lot of the work and just work on her basic offensive and defensive skills. She’s been really important to that start for us.”
Tomcsi realizes how fortunate he is to come to a program with a player like Burton – and to have her for more than one season.
“When I came over and took over the job, one my first things (to do) was to talk to Heather and to explain philosophically where I was offensively and defensively,” Tomcsi said. “I told her up front that she was still going to be that main focus for us but with the personnel that we had, I thought it was important for her to get her teammates more involved.
“She embraced it because she understood that the big picture was winning ballgames. She’d rather sacrifice some of her own stats than be losing ballgames.”
With Burton leading the way, the Senators are 4-1 in PCC play and, factoring in wins over South Central and LaCrosse in the Mid-Winter Classic, have six total wins over conference opponents. The junior believes the best is yet to come from Washington Twp., which faces LaCrosse again Friday night and then will have four nonconference games to tune up for the PCC tournament.
“Everyone is working extremely hard together and working well,” Burton said. “Coach has done a great job of motivating and pushing us all to do our best. He always says to get better every day. I think, as a team, we have been getting better every day.”
With a focus on continued improvement, Tomcsi expects his team to carry the momentum of the Mid-Winter Classic title into the rest of the season.
“It’s definitely a springboard for us,” Tomsci said. “That win over South Central in the morning was huge for us. They beat us early in the season pretty handily (53-36) so to be able to turnaround in a couple of weeks and beat a quality team like South Central was huge for us.
“We think we can get on a bit of a roll here and hopefully have a good showing in the PCC tournament and do very well there.”
For her part, Burton is looking forward to the road ahead and will face any obstacles head on.
“I just like to play the game. I try not to think about anything else and just play,” Burton said. “I don’t mind the pressure. I like being challenged because I know it will make me better in the end.”