NEW CARLISLE — Last season, New Prairie girls basketball coach Todd Dermody felt there were two sets of players, and a "schism" of sorts on his squad.
This campaign, he was looking to rectify that problem.
It started in the offseason when he organized some team bonding activities with the objective of making his players closer to each other and more helpful to one another at the same time.
“This summer, we just kind of recognized and tried to eliminate the schism in the group, and bond,” Dermody said. “And make it kind of a larger group where everybody kind of fits in. So we've been concentrating on holding everybody to the same standards, treating everybody exactly the same as far as following the rules. But also, making sure that every girl knows that the other girls on the team care about them just as much as they care about themselves. So we've really pushed working together, giving other people a chance.”
The squad had some team bonding days where they went to Warren Dunes, shared meals, and participated on hikes, in addition to attending a few basketball camps over the summer, including one in Marshall, Mich.
The second-year Cougars coach felt those activities offered the right mix of camaraderie and cohesion.
“We were able to break down some barriers and get along a lot better,” Dermody said. “Our goal this year is to just kind of bond the team together, so that everybody is one big group. There's one vision, but a lot of little people doing all the little parts to make the big group work.”
New Prairie's three captains, Libby Lapczynski, Jordan Winters and Maddie McSurley, experienced first-hand the benefits of the team bonding activities, which they hope result in a successful season.
The players hung out at each others' houses over the summer and did girl-specific activities, besides playing a ton of basketball together as well.
“I feel like we weren't close enough last year,” Lapczynski said. “Some people were close. We all just had our own little group. And there was some fighting and stuff. I felt like if we all became friends and got along with each other it would be a lot more of a team sport.”
Winters concurred, adding that the schism between classes no longer exists.
“We're definitely a lot closer than we were in the past,” she said. “The upperclassmen are closer to the underclassmen. It doesn't feel like there's that divide anymore. With us being closer, we'll be able to connect more on the court and make things happen more often.”
McSurley, a sophomore, sees the difference in how productive the team is based on the greater cohesiveness.
“If we don't have positivity, we're all just not going to work together at everything,” she said. “When we all work together, everything comes together easier on the court and it just all works.”
Lapczynski, Winters and McSurley all have a good amount of varsity experience, with Lapczynski the lone senior on the squad as a point and shooting guard who won't shy away from being a floor leader. She did a little of everything last year, averaging 12.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. Winters, meanwhile, tallied nearly eight points a contest as a sophomore, in addition to 4.6 boards. McSurley was a bruiser in the paint, leading the team with 6.6 rebounds an outing, to go along with 4.6 points and 2.4 steals.
This campaign, Winters is eager to embrace directional duties.
"I definitely have more of a leadership role with being an upperclassmen now and a captain," she said. "I need to step up more and lead more. But that also comes with taking on more responsibility on the court and being able to score and direct traffic on the court."
Besides team bonding and team chemistry, Lapczynski understands that the will to win of players is priceless.
“We definitely have to have a lot of heart,” she said. “Some players have more heart than others. And some players wouldn't care if we're losing. So I feel like they need more heart in order for us to win.”
The Cougars are hoping all of these elements combine into an improvement over last season's lackluster 5-19 record.
“Last year, there were times where we didn't trust each other enough,” Dermody said. “We'd come down the stretch in a close game and we would miss some of the things we could do that would really help us get over the hump and be successful, because we didn't trust our teammates. As a group now, they're kind of recognizing it's easier to let that next person get the ball, and we may or may not get it back, but at least the team's scoring and we keep it moving forward.”