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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Unbeatens Notre Dame, Central Catholic collide

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It's only one game in a long season, both teams caution.

It's just a regular-season contest, and the City League has a postseason tournament to determine its girls basketball champion.

Still, you get a sense from both Central Catholic and Notre Dame that tonight's clash of undefeated teams at Notre Dame is more than just a typical regular-season matchup.

One reason is that the teams have identical records of 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the City League. That means the winner will take a big step toward earning the top seed in the league tournament.

But coaches on both sides know the game will do more than just help set seeds for the league and state tournaments.

"When my staff and I came [to Notre Dame] five years ago, Central was the top dog," Eagles coach Rhett Boyd said. "Everyone was striving to get to where they were. And to get to their level, you've had to do something right."

The Irish have dominated the opposition so far this season, nearly doubling their opponents point total - the average score of their games is 70-35.5. Central is led by a pair of double-figure scorers in junior Brianna Jones, who averages 14.3 points per game, and senior Sharise Calhoun at 12.5. Close behind is Katelyn Nowacki at 9.8.

But Boyd said the key to the success of the Irish has been the team's defense.

"Everything starts with the pressure they put on a team, in the full-court and half-court," Boyd said of Central. "Whether it's a steal or a deflection or just their size, they are very disruptive. They're doing those things a lot better this year, and I think their tournament run last year gave them confidence."

Last season the Irish beat Notre Dame to reach the City League tournament finals, where they lost to Waite. But that was merely a prelude to an extended state tournament run that eventually ended with a regional final loss to Findlay.

"These are not stupid kids," Central coach Steve Pfahler said of his team. "They knew they had nine players back from a regional finalist, and they wanted to take the next step. They've had good senior leadership, and the kids are coming off a successful volleyball season [that resulted in a Division II state title].

"The kids realize they are going to get everybody's best shot. The City League is much more balanced; the kids are better, and the coaching got better. The programs as a whole have gotten a lot better."

One of the programs that has improved in recent seasons is Notre Dame, which is outscoring its opponents 68-42. The leader for the Eagles is Patrice Lalor, who has signed a national letter of intent to play at Dayton. The 5-6 senior guard averages 13.4 points, 6.5 assists, 4.8 steals and 4.0 rebounds per game.

Lalor suffered a knee injury in her team's win over Springfield last week, and Boyd said her status currently is day-to-day.

"Lalor is a great player who has stepped it up [this season]," Pfahler said. "She could score 25 points a game, but instead she's helped her teammates become more comfortable."

But Lalor isn't Notre Dame's only weapon. Junior Jasmine Blanton averages 12.5 points per game, while freshman Erica Donovan contributes 11.8 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds each contest.

"Their team revolves around having their guards pressure you around the court," Pfahler said of the Eagles. "Rhett has them playing with confidence. Their kids like him, they've bought into his system and they play hard for him."

The teams have split their recent meetings, with Notre Dame winning the regular-season matchups in each of the past two years. Central won in the regular season in both 2005 and 2004, but one win came by only two points and the other was in overtime.

"They will be a big challenge for us," Pfahler said of the Eagles. "They're not in awe of us, and theirs is a tough place for us to play.

"But it's only one game in a season. Winning this game doesn't guarantee you'll win a City League championship or get out of the district. It's more of a guideline or a checkpoint. It shows how your team is progressing and where you need improvement."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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