Four juniors left their exit interviews last season being told by the Rensselaer coaching staff that, as seniors, they needed to change the culture of the Bombers’ girls basketball program.
When Laura Tonner showed up at school Monday wearing a piece of the net from last Saturday’s sectional championship as a bracelet, it was a sign that they’d achieved that goal.
“When we come back to the school, we will see 2013 and know we were a part of that,” Tonner said.
The previous three seasons, Tonner and fellow seniors Emilie Ziese, Rachael Dobson and Chelsea Hughes had gone 0-3 in the sectional tournament, and the Bombers had lost their sectional opener four straight years overall.
When the sectional draw was announced and the Bombers were paired up against rival Kankakee Valley, which had lost just four games all season, Rensselaer’s seniors knew it was now or never.
“Put your heart out on the floor. Everyone did that,” Ziese said. “The four seniors led that and everyone else caught on.
“We knew we weren’t going anywhere unless we won that one game.”
Now the Bombers get to go back home after following up the Kankakee Valley victory with wins over Calumet and Hanover Central. Rensselaer hosts No. 4 Benton Central Saturday.
The Bombers’ Hoosier Conference rival has won all 13 meetings since the turn of the century.
“They are a team we know very well. They are a very good ball club,” Rensselaer coach Jeff Marlow said. “They are No. 4 in the state for a reason. We see it as an opportunity. Every game is an opportunity. We’re not going to come in here and say, ‘Well, we’re here. We had fun.’ We’ve got to make some things happen.”
Doing so would imply that the culture has not changed.
And the Bombers — led by Tonner and Ziese, who were both named to Hoosier Basketball Magazine’s Top 100 seniors list — hope to show that by putting up a much better fight than in their 81-39 loss at Oxford earlier this season.
Tonner is fully aware of what can happen, and escalate quickly, if the Bombers go in without the mindset they can match up with the Bison. She’s known BC stars Cassidy Deno and Caitlyn Tolen for years through Blue Chip Basketball in Lafayette.
She’s seen that duo bury teams their fair share of times.
“No one believed in us for sectionals besides our family and us,” Tonner said. “That’s how it is this Saturday. People are expecting Benton Central to win. We can go in with the mindset that we believe in ourselves and can do it.”