FLORA – It was a hard lesson in what happens when you take things for granted.
Now the Carroll Cougars are motivated.
They expected to be in this position a season ago, going into the regional tournament, but were upset by Frontier 45-43 in the sectional opener.
The Falcons went on to win their first sectional title and Carroll was left to stew about what could have been.
You can point to that loss for the success of this season. Twenty-one victories to just three losses.
This time, the Cougars completed their mission in the sectional with a better approach.
“Last year we fell short and we really wanted it this year,” sophomore guard Macy Willoughby said. “I think we’re working together a little bit better this year and we are more mature.”
Last season was Carroll’s first under Chad Arnold, a first-time head coach.
Arnold’s first order of business was to scrap Carroll’s zone defense in favor of man-to-man.
It was an adjustment that maybe never fully got mastered by the postseason.
“We were kind of behind when we got to the end of the season,” Arnold said. “We weren’t very good at a lot of things we wanted to be good at. This year, we started a little bit ahead of schedule, had a great summer and came into the year knowing what we expected.”
They expected to win, not just games, but championships.
Carroll opened the season by winning the Indiana Kitchen Classic. The Cougars won the Hoosier Heartland Conference title. They waltzed to a sectional championship at Rossville last week.
Now a regional crown is within reach.
“We’re not guaranteed anything,” junior guard Libby Eller said. “Last year we thought we were going to win (the sectional) and we didn’t go into it thinking it could be our last game. It definitely motivated us to do better and get as many wins as we could.”
Senior Carly Kingery has been on the brink of the biggest stage in high school softball. The Cougars’ star pitcher tossed a gem in a 1-0 nine-inning semistate loss to last year’s state champion North Miami.
Since her freshman year, Kingery has wanted that same emotional high on the basketball court.
This is the last chance for Carroll’s three seniors Kingery, Sam Dreadfulwater and Abbie Burns.
“We worked a lot harder in practice and focused a lot better,” Kingery said of the differences between a season ago and this year. “Last year we went in picked to win (the sectional) and I think that maybe got in our heads a little. This year we made sure we did things right.
“I don’t want my season to end. I know this is the last time.”
Class A Regional
Carroll (21-3) vs. Union (22-3)
Time: 10 a.m.
Central Catholic (20-6) vs. Monroe Central (13-12)
What’s next: The winners play in the 8 p.m. championship game
If you go: Tri-Central is at 2115 West County Road 500 North in Sharpsville.