THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
The Notre Dame Eagles and sixth-year coach Travis Galloway may have some other business to attend to before girls basketball sectional tournament play begins next month.
There are two big games at the prestigious Classic in the Country invitational in Berlin (Ohio) on Jan. 18-19. And, of course, they have a quest for a third straight 14-0 run to a championship in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
But make no mistake, the Eagles (7-0 overall, 4-0 TRAC), who are ranked No. 4 in the Division I state poll, have one true focus — reaching a third straight state final four, and this time winning a championship.
That task is easier said than done, however, even for a Notre Dame team that returned four starters from last season’s 25-4 squad.
Nothing less will do for the Eagles, who are led by senior third-year starter Jayda Worthy, and junior returning starters Tierra Floyd, Kaayla McIntyre, and Christiana Jefferson.
“We’ve talked a lot about not only getting back there, but staying and playing two games,” Galloway said of the final four. “Getting to that extra night and playing for a state title.
“But it takes a lot of luck and a lot of ability to get down there, and there’s a lot of good teams that can beat anybody. We’re trying to take that next step, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Success in this state quest would make Notre Dame the first Toledo team — boys or girls — to reach three consecutive state semifinals. The boys teams from Scott (1959, 1960) and St. John’s Jesuit (2003, 2004) are the only other Toledo teams to reach back-to-back final fours.
This season, Notre Dame has outscored its foes by an average of 60-39 per game.
Included have been nonleague wins against Dublin Coffman (56-48) in the season-opening Reynoldsburg Tipoff Classic, against City League power Rogers (56-50), which is Ohio’s sixth-ranked Division II team, and against Eaton Rapids (47-39) from Michigan in the Motor City Roundball Classic.
In TRAC play, the Eagles have beaten Whitmer (51-31), Central Catholic (67-51), Fremont Ross (73-26), and Findlay (67-28) to run their record to 32-0 in the two-plus seasons of the conference’s existence.
Floyd, a 6-foot-2 guard-forward, leads the team in scoring (13.9 average), assists (4.1), steals (1.9), and also contributes 6.0 rebounds a game.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” Floyd said of Toledo’s history at state, “but we’re really focused on winning it this year. We don’t want to just make it. I’ve learned from the people above me, like Jayda. They taught me to push every practice.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
“We’re a family, on and off the court. We love each other as teammates, and it shows on the court. Nothing is guaranteed, so it’s good to have a little pressure.”
McIntyre, a 6-foot-2 forward, averages 11.6 points plus a team-best 9.0 rebounds.
“My role is to produce,” McIntyre said. “I can’t have any off games. You can usually tell when our team isn’t playing well. When we aren’t, I try to pick my teammates up during the timeouts.
“I think we’re on track. We come into practice ready to work all the time. If we’re not, coach will make us run. I think we’re better this year because we work harder. We don’t worry about the pressure. We just come out and play our game.”
Worthy, who has missed the last two games with what is believed to be a minor knee injury, has added 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in her role as the team’s floor leader.
“I’ve had some good role models in past years that were leaders on our team,” said Worthy, who has signed to play at Radford. “They taught me how to lead a team, and I’m trying to do my best to do that.
“Michelle Holmes [2012 graduate] was the best role model that I had. She taught me how to be vocal, and to do my best to keep boosting my team, and stay positive. Usually, I’m a quiet person. I’m not that vocal. But I am improving at that every day, during practice and in games.”
Jefferson, a quick 5-5 point guard, averages 3.4 assists and has been solid in running the Eagles’ offense with an impressive 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The most significant addition to the lineup has been 5-7 freshman guard Mariah Copeland, whose perimeter shooting touch has added 10.4 points per game.
The other top contributor has been 5-5 guard Talajha Parker, the only other senior on a team with nine juniors.
Notre Dame’s biggest regular-season challenge comes at the Classic in the Country. The Eagles will face third-ranked defending state champion Kettering Fairmont (11-1), then take on top-ranked Mason (10-0).
The Eagles also have nonleague games remaining against perennial Northern Lakes League powers Northview and Perrysburg.
“I think we are on track,” Galloway said. “We’ve had some pretty good wins in our first seven games, and we’ve had to do it in a variety of ways — whether it was lead from coast to coast, come from behind, or have to defend [late] runs coming at us.
“The girls have understood the pressure. They know we’re practicing to not only get better for now, but practicing to get better for February and March. You can’t look at the schedule and just wait for the tournament. You have to come in every day and work hard, and then the [tournament run] will take care of itself when the time comes.”
In carbon-copy runs the last two years, Notre Dame swept to TRAC titles. It beat Northview in the district final, Perrysburg in the regional semifinal, and Wadsworth in the regional final before falling to Kettering Fairmont in the 2012 and 2013 state semifinals.
Last March, the Eagles battled Fairmont’s third-ranked Firebirds deep into the game before falling 37-31. Fairmont went on to claim the title.
Being that close to the top has left Galloway (98-29 record at ND) and his Eagles hungry to return to Columbus.
“If we’re to get to where we want, we have to work hard every day,” Floyd said. “As a team, if we can look at each other in the eye and know each and every day that we didn’t let each other down, than we know we did our best.”
Galloway has seen an improvement in his team each year. In his first season (2008-09) the Eagles ended 10-10 overall. The next year they were 15-5, and in 2010-11 finished 19-5. ND had 22-5 and 25-4 records the last two seasons.
“I really felt that last year’s group did a great job of peaking at the right time,” Galloway said. “They continued to get better and then peaked when it mattered the most.
“With this year’s group, there’s still a lot of room to grow. We haven’t peaked by any many means. But we have amped it up from last year to this year because we had a lot of returning players. I think we’re in a good situation.”