Ireton girls basketball moving in right direction under new coach Harris

Ireton girls basketball moving in right direction under new coach Harris

By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)

It is often said that a team learns more about itself in defeat than in victory, so Bishop Ireton’s 69-45 defeat at home to St. Mary’s Ryken in girls basketball certainly will have served as an educational experience.

Learning from every game is something that first-year head coach Jason Harris has emphasized to his Cardinals roster, as they have improved beyond all recognition in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference from the team that only a few years ago brought a 66-game conference losing streak to an end.

Now, Ireton stand on the brink of a playoff campaign in the WCAC with a 14-14 record at press time, after Harris brought in a new ethos designed to bring his players closer together both on and off the court.

“What I’ve tried to implement is that we’re a family, instead of being just a team that plays during the season and then we don’t talk to each other out of the season,” he explained after the game. “What we really try to do is communicate with each other, try to do things together. We go bowling, we have dinners before games, sometimes we may have dinners on weekends, we’ve been to school plays.

“It’s different types of activities that give them that bond, a little bit more than basketball, so that when we actually get to basketball, you feel that closeness and are comfortable with everybody. When we get into games, we never want them to quit, we want them to always keep playing and keep building. Our philosophy is that no matter the score, we’re going to keep building and getting better and better each game. If we do that, that’s a win for us.”

This new philosophy is something his players and the core group of Cardinals seniors bought in to immediately, having been on the receiving end of plenty of losses over the years and being determined to put things right.

“I definitely think our seniors stepped up,” Harris said. “They had lost a couple of games throughout the years, and they were just tired of losing. I really think that they bought in, and then when your seniors buy in and your better players buy in, everybody starts to buy in.

“There’s no selfishness on the team. Nobody’s really worried about stats, we’re not really worried about who has the most assists or blocks or anything like that. It’s the team goals, everything is about the team.”

In the game against the Knights, Ireton fell behind early but kept it close in the first half. However, at the beginning of the third and fourth quarters, the visitors’ offense caught fire and the Cardinals could not keep up. St. Mary’s Ryken came into the game with a record of 17-7, and lived up to their No. 4 spot in the WCAC standings.

But Harris was encouraged by his players’ efforts and their resolve, as they trailed by as many as 25 points before finally succumbing.

“We came out and we played hard against a really good team,” he said. “[They] have some really good older players and have been around this league for a long time.

“One of the big improvements for us this year is that, no matter what the score is, we want to play hard until the very end. If we’re down by two or are winning by 30 or are down by 30, we always want to play hard and as hard as we possibly can.”

The challenge now for Harris and his assistants is to maintain this good direction in future years, with five seniors set to graduate at the end of the season. But with sophomores Aidan Phillips and Sarah Innis set to stay on the court after a year with the Varsity squad and a number of other talented underclassmen, he believes the coming years will be even brighter.

“I think it starts from the bottom up, it’s just like if you’re building a house you never put on the roof first, you build from the base,” Harris said. “Our Varsity is our roof, and even though the Varsity is doing a little bit better, we’re really starting with the younger kids, the freshmen, the eighth-graders possibly coming in, that’s where you really find your foundation.

“What we did, because we have two or three sophomores on the Varsity team who would typically play JV, but they’ve been playing up and getting that experience and as we move along they’ll be ready to go and ready to step in and play.”

The rest of this season could prove exciting for the Cardinals, as they prepare for a playoff run in the WCAC. The No. 7 seed, they are set to host a play-in game later this month, and with the possibility of an upset always on the cards, they are determined to keep up the good feeling.