Notre Dame sophomore Kaayla McIntyre averages 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Notre Dame’s girls basketball team opened the season with a look quite different from a year ago.
Only one starter returned from last year's team that reached the Division I state semifinals.
The makeup of the Eagles this year is in many ways opposite to the team that was expected to do great things a year ago.
Frankly, there were no real preseason expectations this time.
"This year we've kind of quietly kept plugging away," Notre Dame coach Travis Galloway said. "We didn't have that team that was super-explosive, so our margin of victories haven't been as impressive as last year's group. We didn't have that same style of team we've just kept plugging away, plugging away.
"As the season kept going, people thought, 'OK, they are pretty good.' I really think our best basketball is still ahead of us and hopefully it comes out in the tournament."
Junior forward Jayda Worthy is the lone returning starter from the team that posted a 22-4 overall record after losing 54-45 to Kettering Fairmont in a state semifinal.
Yet, this team, which has significantly less experience on the floor, has come through and produced a similar season-long showing heading into the first week of the tournament.
They went into Wednesday night's Division I sectional meeting with Bowsher with a 19-3.
And the Eagles made it look quite easy conquering the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship by going 14-0 in the league.
"Going into the season we had a lot of question marks," Galloway. "We knew we had some talent, but we did have some question marks because we didn't have a lot of experience coming back.
"But this group has really improved every day. They've come in with a mindset to try and push each other every day to try and get better."
Worthy is the only returning starter from last year's team and leads Notre Dame in scoring with 13.5 points to go along with 7.1 rebounds per game.
She's key for serving as a frontline leader for a team that does depend heavily on its share of underclassmen, including talented 6-foot sophomores Tierra Floyd and Kaayla McIntyre.
"Since I've been through it all, they look to me as a leader now," Worthy said. "I have to step up this tournament season."
Worthy, who missed part of this season with a knee injury, is healthy and playing some of her best basketball. She also understands the Eagles, as a group, will have to play its best basketball of the season in order to have any chance at making the kind of tournament run they experienced a year ago with former Notre Dame standouts Cat Wells, Demy Whitaker and Michelle Holmes leading the way.
"We're playing very well," Worthy said. "Actually, our chemistry is picking up. If we peak at the right time and if we keep playing the way we're playing, I think we'll go very far."
Yet, the differences between last year's team and this year's team goes beyond experience.
Last year's team pushed the pace. This year's team plays patiently.
It's a tale of two playing tempos.
"In the past we really liked to run up and down and push the tempo, offensive and defensively," Galloway said. "This year we've done things a little differently. We're much bigger than any team we've had in the past and we're not as quick. So, we've tried to be a possession type team and understand good shots every possession and who needs to take those shots.
"Defensively, we don't press as much. We do press, but not as often."
Floyd's and McIntyre's best days on a basketball court don't figure to take place until next year if not for a couple years. That doesn't mean the talented tandem haven't played well this season. They've been solid, steady contributors.
Floyd is averaging 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds while also serving as one of the Eagles' primary ballhandlers despite being one of the team's tallest players. She often brings the ball up court against opposing full-court pressing defenses.
McIntyre averages 12.6 points and a team-best 8.5 rebounds per game.
"I think both of those players, especially as sophomores, along with our sophomore point guard (Christiana Jefferson), I think their composure is much older than what their years are," Galloway said.
Calloway has also called on senior guards Faith Mitchell and Christy Ohlinger to lead an Eagles team made up primarily of seniors and sophomores.
Is the latest edition of the Eagles good enough to soar to last year’s heights and reach the final four?
Only time will tell.
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade