LACROSSE | One bad game and an all-too-familiar history threatened to repeat itself.
That was the challenge facing the LaCrosse girls basketball team after a disappointing loss to River Forest early last week.
“Going into the Hebron game a few weeks ago, we were 3-2 and really felt like we could get on a little roll. We came out really flat against them and then came out really flat against River Forest,” Tigers coach Brian McMahan said. “We’ve talked a lot about mental toughness. You’re going to lose some games here and there when you’re a program that’s trying to get better, but if you’re in it and you’re staying positive, you’re going to stay in a lot more games. That’s what helped us Friday night.”
Friday night was the biggest win of the young season for LaCrosse, a 38-34 come-from-behind win against Porter County Conference foe Boone Grove. The Tigers improved to 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the PCC – no small feat for a program that has gone through a pair of winless season in the last decade and a half.
The win over the Wolves could help LaCrosse avoid a recurring nightmare that has derailed the Tigers in seasons past: a lengthy mid-season losing streak. In the middle of the program’s turnaround – and the Boone Grove win – is sophomore Katie Vance.
Vance had 14 points and 14 rebounds in the win over the Wolves and is now averaging over 12 points per game. She’s scored a career-high 15 points twice this season and has recorded four double-doubles.
“I think Katie knew all summer long that she was going to have to come in and she couldn’t just be a board player. She was going to have to be someone who scored for us,” McMahan said. “She’s really taken that on this year. She likes to be aggressive around the rim and that’s something that we needed. She mixes well with what we’re trying to accomplish as a program.”
In her first full varsity season, Vance senses a change in the program.
“I’ve played basketball since the fifth grade, and the team that I’m on now, we just come together so well. It’s awesome,” Vance said. “We all want it. We all are on the same page. We all work for the same goal. There’s not anyone there who doesn’t want to be there. We are all there because we all love the game and we all put it all out there on the floor.”
For a program on the turnaround, things aren’t always going to go right. Mistakes will happen. Players will have an off night or two. But Vance said the focus for the team is to keep moving forward and to contribute however a player can on a given night.
“We all go out there and play with our hearts and leave it all out there on the court,” Vance said. “We’ve been working really hard on our defense, we have a new offense set up and we just need to keep the speed of the game at our pace. We need to take it game-by-game and not worry about what’s in the future.”
It appears that after more than a decade of losing, there’s more to come from the Tigers. And even with the mindset of a seasoned veteran and a double digit points-per-game average, there’s more to come from Vance.
“We feel like she’s still really raw right now,” McMahan said. “But if she keeps working hard and she keeps developing like she is, I can see her being an all-conference player this year and maybe an all-area player the next couple of years.”