Zionsville basketball: From 4 wins to state title expectations

Zionsville basketball: From 4 wins to state title expectations

Video

Zionsville basketball: From 4 wins to state title expectations

Zionsville junior Katie Isenbarger

Zionsville junior Katie Isenbarger

ZIONSVILLE — This is Zionsville basketball: On a night when the Eagles beat McCutcheon by 38, their All-American nominee isn’t their top scorer — and their All-American nominee had 21.

This is Zionsville basketball: Eagles coach Andy Maguire can sit his starters for most of the second half against a sectional opponent. In January. Because the lead is so big and there are bigger games ahead.

This is Zionsville basketball: In the 2016 calendar year, it went 26-3.

This is Zionsville basketball: People said the Eagles were a year or so away from making a run. Now, Maguire says,”We may never be this good.”

This is Zionsville basketball. But to understand what Zionsville basketball is, you have to understand what it was.

***

Rachel McLimore (right) transferred to Zionsville from Covenant Christian this summer.

Rachel McLimore (right) transferred to Zionsville from Covenant Christian this summer.

Erin Patterson was the leader of the team just two seasons ago as a freshman. Led the team in scoring. Rebounds. Assists. Steals. Just one other player scored in double-figures. That team won four games. It was the program’s 11th consecutive non-winning season.

She’s reflecting. And she’s laughing.

“Four games?” she says with a shake of her head. “I thought, ‘Well, this is what it is.’ But now I know there’s so much more we can strive for with all the pieces of this team.”

Katie Isenbarger also was a freshman on that team. She didn’t play as big of a role. But she played, and she remembers what it was like.

“We struggled early because we were a really young team,” she said. “As we’ve progressed and gotten older, we’ve just gotten better.”

Then last season happened, a talent boon unlike anything the program has seen. Last year’s freshman class didn’t lose a game in junior high. Maddie Nolan. Delaney Richason. Gabby Woodworth. They came in and made everyone better. Nolan led the team in scoring, so Patterson was freed up to be more creative on offense. Isenbarger led the team in rebounding. Richason averaged seven points and six rebounds.

The team won its first sectional since 1996.

“That was a little surprising,” Maguire said. “I knew we were going to be good, but I didn’t know we were going to go to that level that quick.”

This season though, he knew it could be special. Everyone would have another year of experience. Maybe if they got lucky and …

***

On Aug. 22, Rachel McLimore transferred from Covenant Christian to Zionsville after her family moved to the area.

She provided scoring (21.3 points as a junior) and experience (a senior with a trip to the state finals under her belt). And the transition couldn’t have gone better.

“She really fits in well with our kids,” Maguire said. “She’s got great character and is probably one of the most popular girls on the team. That’s a dynamic that doesn’t always work. It worked from Day 1. It was easy.”

Nolan benefited especially. She no longer has to carry the scoring load. She and McLimore, an All-American nominee who is a DePaul commit, were already friends. She had someone to look up to and someone to push her.

“She allows me to do so much more,” Nolan said. “Rachel will drive and kick it out to me. Having Erin and Rachel to have the ball in their hands and I don’t have to do that as much as I did last year, it opens up other pieces of my game.”

The Eagles (18-1) aren’t just beating opponents. They’re bludgeoning them, to the tune of nearly 30 points per game. But if there’s a weak spot in the Eagles resume, it might be their schedule. Their strength of schedule ranks 35th in the state, according to the Sagarin ratings. By comparison, no other team ranked in the top five in Class 4A has a schedule difficulty ranked outside the top 20.

Maguire points to the game against Carmel and the Columbus North tournament (wins over Jeffersonville, Center Grove and Columbus North in a two-day span) as quality games. But he knows there’s room to grow. Don’t be surprised to see the likes of Ben Davis, Lawrence North and North Central on the schedule soon.

And this team should be good next year. But Maguire knows the window to do what this team can do? Small.

“Our sophomores and juniors realize this is a great opportunity with Rachel being here,” he said. “It may give them that opportunity before they thought they may have been there. A lot of people thought maybe we were a year away. I don’t know. We may not ever be this good.”

***

The team went on a preseason retreat and made goals. One, to win the conference for the first time in program history. Hamilton Southeastern provides the staunchest opposition to that goal. Another goal? Win the state title.

Really? Win state?

“Yeah we think we can do it,” McLimore said.

“Absolutely,” someone else chimed in behind her.

“It’s not going to be easy,” someone else said. “But…”

This is Zionsville basketball. A program that has come so far in such a short time believes it can be the best team in the state.

“Two years ago, I never would’ve guessed that,” Isenbarger said. “Now that we’re here, we’re just waiting on our paycheck.”

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Times; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000}span.s1 {font-kerning: none; background-color: #eeeeee}

Follow IndyStar reporter Matthew VanTryon on Twitter: @MVanTryon.

Latest

More USA Today High School Sports
Home