INDIANAPOLIS – Bankers Life Fieldhouse is the last place North Harrison coach Missy Voyles expected to be on Saturday night.
Every girls basketball coach, every team in Indiana, hopes to make it there, to compete for an IHSAA state championship. No. 7 North Harrison (28-2) has that chance, set to meet No. 2 Heritage Christian (25-4) in the Class 3-A final. The Cougars fought their way through adversity to advance to the first championship game in program history.
That’s why Voyles is pleasantly stunned. She envisioned this run in two more years, when her young team will have matured. Top-ranked Princeton, the undefeated defending state champion, was everyone’s choice to breeze back to Indianapolis.
Surprise, surprise. Princeton got shocked in the sectional, and that opened the door for a lot of teams. The Cougars, despite their youth, despite losing two players with injuries during the state tournament series, yanked it open and charged through. Ready or not, here they are.
“This is totally unexpected,” Voyles said. “The kids have no idea what they’re doing. We tell them what’s going to happen next, and they’re like ‘Oh, cool.’ They just live in the moment. You don’t know what will happen next year, or next week. We are here to play today.
“It’s a great thing for North Harrison to be here. To win the title, I’m not quite sure it has sunk in we’re here and what the possibilities are.”
How amazing has this journey been? When it started, North Harrison was given a 3.6 percent chance, according to the Sagarin computer ratings and predictions. And that’s about how much of a chance its given now, considering Heritage Christian is chasing a third straight state crown (the previous two were in 2-A) and has a roster loaded with Division I recruits.
Don’t tell the Cougars the odds. They’ve defied them all along. They lost sophomore Cali Nolot, one of the top scorers at 12.3, with a broken hand and still won the sectional. They lost sophomore Jessicka Chiquito with a knee injury and still won the regional. Voyles inserted two players who spent the entire year on the junior varsity into the rotation and just kept plugging away.
“It says a lot about the depth,” Voyles said. “The kids had to adjust to Cali going down, and it took a couple of games to figure that out. That’s an adjustment, when you look at two kids the week of the sectional and say ‘You better be ready to play. You’re not just sitting on the bench cheering anymore.’ They’re getting a moment they weren’t expecting.”
The lineup and roster changes required someone fill the void. Freshman center Lilly Hatton (12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds) and senior Carlie Burson (8.7) have been constants, but the Nolot absence meant someone had to step forward. Sophomore guards Taylor Rennirt (7.2) and Hallie Hinton (5.0) have almost doubled their outputs in the tournament.
“Taylor and Hallie have really stepped up their game,” Voyles said. “We’ve had to have some conversations about Taylor shooting the basketball. She’s used to being on the court, looking for Cali and Lilly. We had to have conversations that Cali is no longer there, and she is the person we’re looking for.”
The sophomore class is the focal point, and the reason Voyles was so optimistic about the future.
“When these kids came in as freshmen last year, the older kids just looked at them like a bunch of puppies,” Voyles said. “I think the older dogs have adjusted to the puppies a little bit. It’s been an interesting mix.”
The dynamic on the North Harrison bench is equally interesting. Voyles has two veterans behind her, the husband-and-wife combination of Joe and Angie Hinton. Joe guided the Floyd Central boys to the Final Four in 1989, Angie won the Class 4-A state title with the New Albany girls in 1999. There is no shortage of opinions.
“It’s good on the bench,” Voyles said. “They don’t always get along with each other, and it’s an interesting fight every night. I bounce ideas off, and sometimes Joe is like ‘Go with it’ and sometimes it’s like ‘Lord, don’t do that.’ It can be pretty comical. We do sometimes make him mad. He’s the only man on the bench and that’s a tough spot to be.”
Voyles takes it all in stride. She’s in her second stint as the head coach. Her first, which included a trip to the semistate in 2003, was from 1997-2005, followed by a six-year break after the birth of her third son. She’s been back the last four seasons. The overtime loss to Beech Grove in ‘03, which ended an undefeated run, still stings, but she has grown.
“My perspective has changed,” Voyles said. “I don’t take myself as seriously as I did. I enjoy coaching more. I have fun. We’ve had fun all year.”
Make no mistake, North Harrison is a huge underdog as it enjoys the moment. The Eagles feature senior Tyasha Harris (23.4 points, 3.8 assists), Indiana University-bound center Darby Foresman and a cast of talent. Rick Risinger has won six state titles as their coach, the most in Indiana girls basketball history.
Heritage Christian, even with the overwhelming pedigree, is still taking North Harrison seriously.
“They’re at the state championship, so obviously they know how to play,” Risinger said. “It’s not a one- or two-player team. There’s nice balance. All coaches want have that kind of balance.”
Scripting an upset will be difficult. Heritage Christian loves to run, scoring almost 60 percent of its points in transition, and loves to press. The Eagles have won their six postseason games by an average of 29.8 points.
“We will have to play our best game,” Voyles said. “We like to play fast our way, but we don’t like people to play fast the other way. We’ll try to get back and make sure they work for every basket they get.”
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
CLASS 3-A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
NORTH HARRISON vs. HERITAGE CHRISTIAN
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Game time: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Records: North Harrison 28-2, ranked No. 7; Heritage Christian 25-4, ranked No. 2
G – Taylor Rennirt 5-6 So. 7.2
G – Hallie Hinton 5-5 So. 5.0
G – Stevi Burns 5-6 Jr. 4.4
C – Lilly Hatton 6-1 Fr. 12.7
F – Carlie Burson 5-9 Sr. 8.7
G – DeShawna Harper 5-4 Jr. 16.0
G – Joely Pinkston 5-7 Sr. 4.2
C – Darby Foresman 6-3 Sr. 9.1
F – Tyasha Harris 5-9 Sr. 23.4
F – Katlyn Gilbert 5-10 So. 12.6