After going northwest to Purdue for Wednesday night's game, I returned to my Indianapolis base and then headed south on Thursday to attend practice at Columbus North High School.
I wanted to meet up with its Head Coach Pat McKee (currently in his fifth year at the school with a 93-16 record for those years). Pat makes it a point to credit his players for the program's success. We first met a couple of decades ago when he coached club basketball with Mt. Vernon West and then Indiana's Finest. He gave Stephanie White (new Indiana Fever head coach) her first coaching job in club basketball while she was still a student at Purdue.
I also wanted to watch their practice and get another look at Ali Patberg (5-10, senior point guard). She recently signed with Notre Dame after having orally committed in the middle of her sophomore season. From what she said, the Irish started recruiting her in the eighth grade.
Patberg plays the point in high school and sees herself in that role at the next level. At 5-10, don't be surprised if she didn't see some action on the wing as well.
In watching her, you can see she handles, passes and thinks the game well. Ali takes the ball strongly to the basket but does have a nice mid-range jumper. She realizes that her three-point shooting is an area that could still stand improvement. It appears she is one of the leading candidates for Indiana's Miss Basketball honors averaging 33 points per game (for four games) while shooting just over 50% from the field.
Attending a Columbus North practice is like attending a division one college practice. Coach McKee did in fact spend four years at Butler as an assistant. The practice is carefully laid out with a designated amount of time divided into various drills and competitions lasting about two hours total on this date.
Columbus North has been cranking out division one players (currently four playing at the next level) in the last few years. From watching practice, I can see why division one college coaches are already eying junior Paige Littrell (5-10 shooting guard) and sophomores Imani Guy (6-4 center) and Maliah Howard-Bass (5-9 guard).
On to Heritage Christian School...
The match-up put Roncalli High School (a respected 4A team coming in with only one loss) versus small school (2A) power, undefeated Heritage Christian School, both Indianapolis-based.
The game attracted a who's who of division one head coaches (Butler, Florida State, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, all spotted) plus several assistants. All were there to see uncommitted underclass players with a couple there to support a particular player already committed orally or in writing to their college. The crowd was at least several hundred (not packed as I feared about getting in) but much better than the game two nights earlier at Carmel High School.
The contest itself was a matter of Roncalli trying to maximize what it had and hope a much deeper Heritage Christian team would have an off-night. Roncalli features Lindsey Corsaro (6-0 junior guard orally committed to Kentucky) who will vie for Miss Basketball honors next year. They have a lefty sophomore point guard in Paige Saylor (5-5 with good handles) who spent much of the night trying to keep her teammates involved and particularly get the ball to its star.
Opposing this was Heritage's armada of six division one prospects [see photo gallery]. Seniors Peyton Fallis (5-10 guard headed to IPFW), Sydney Hall (5-6 guard headed to IUPUI) and Allison Schofield (5-10 forward headed to Valparaiso) all start and are competent players. However, the real stars of the team are juniors Darby Foresman (6-3 center orally committed to Indiana) and Tyasha Harris (5-11, considered to be one of the top 2016 point guards in America). Rounding out the likely division one players is freshman guard Katlyn Gilbert (5-10) who comes off the bench.
As is often the case in Indiana, underdogs find a way to maximize the roster's talent. With Roncalli, this meant getting the ball to Corsaro early and often when she would either drive it to the basket or attract help from Heritage's man to man defense and pass to an open player. These tactics could do no more than keep the visitors close as Heritage's balanced scoring gave them a modest 30-22 lead at halftime. Nobody on either side had yet reached double figures with Corsaro leading the visitors with seven and Foresman and Hall each with eight for the home side.
One problem Heritage needs to clean up as they head into some tough contests, including a trip to Chicago (where they play Illinois powers Fremd and Whitney Young) is taking inappropriate shots not in the offense.
The third quarter saw the lead shrink (43-38 after three) as Corsaro (eight points) and point guard Paige Saylor (six points) heated up in the quarter. Unfortunately for Roncalli, Ty Harris was beginning to show why some of the biggest names in the sport were there to recruit her as she successfully drove hard to the basket (10 points) and displayed her creative passing skills.
In the last stanza, things only got worse for the visitors as Heritage went box and one on Corsaro, which took her team a few minutes to get used to allowing Heritage to grow the lead. About half way through the frame, the home team went to the delay and Roncalli had no answers as the lead crept into double figures. For the night, Heritage was led in scoring by Harris with 20 points and Foresman with 14. Corsaro's 20 (mostly via successful drives and converting foul shots) was the only double digit performance by the visitors in what quietly ended in a 62-49 loss.
If Heritage Christian can run the table, the team would certainly deserve a high national ranking. In order to do that, better helping defense versus opposition penetrations and fewer shots outside the context of the offense are needed. Unquestionably, the talent is there. Now the execution must follow. Roncalli, which maximizes what it has, as expected, should be a factor in the 4A (biggest class) race to the title.