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Chargers not giving in to COVID-19, injuries

Ryan Nuppnau has never had a winning season at the helm of the North Montgomery girls’ basketball program.

In fact the Chargers have enjoyed just three winning seasons since the late Terry Bartell — Nuppnau’s father-in-law — guided North to five-straight winning seasons and sectional titles from 2003-07.

But this was suppose to be the season. The year that all the pieces to the puzzle fit, and the Chargers would once again compete for county, conference, and sectional titles.

North Montgomery has played 10 and a half games, but not once have they had a completely healthy lineup. After starting 2-0, they’ve lost eight-straight. If it hasn’t been COVID-19, it’s been injuries. Back and forth — nothing but bad luck and misfortune.

And just when they thought they would have a full roster to start the new year, they were down four players the first week after Christmas.

“It’s one of those things that I told the girls,” Nuppnau said. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. And you just have to roll with it.”

But the Chargers have never quit. They’ve never backed down and are eager to compete and thankful for each opportunity they have to lace up their sneakers.

“We are really trying to refocus the mindset on what does success really mean in life and high school sports,” Nuppnau said. “We’ve kind of adopted the John Wooden definition of success. And that’s kind of been our motto — individually can we go out there each and every day and get better and put forth our best effort and basically let the chips fall as they may.”

That half game the Chargers played?

It came back in early November against Park Tudor, when the game was suspended at halftime after a person close to the program tested positive for COVID-19. That put the Chargers into quarantine as a team, followed by injuries that mounted two weeks later at the Sugar Creek Classic when North dropped a pair of games to Southmont and Western Boone. Another quarantine followed the second week of December. Junior Madi Welch is the only player that has played in all 10 games for the Chargers.

“To be honest we came in with high hopes,” Nuppnau said before the Chargers fell to North Putnam on Tuesday to tip-off the 2021 portion of the schedule. “If you would have said we would be 2-7 at this point, I’d be laughing at you. I figured we would be able to compete for the Sugar Creek Classic, I figured with the Delphi tournament we would be in the championship game. We’d be well above .500 at this point going into January, but obviously that didn’t happen.”

The Delphi Christmas tournament was canceled, and as the Chargers head into the final stretch of the season, there is just three and a half weeks before sectional play starts. That winning season they once dreamed about is almost an afterthought, but that hasn’t kept them from having the desire to continuing improving.

“Coach Nuppnau and the staff have done an excellent job leading this group of outstanding ladies,” North Montgomery athletic director Matt Merica said. “They continue to practice and play with purpose. So far, they have not reached the amount of success, in terms of wins, that they were expecting but they continue to work hard and prepare for each game like it’s their last.”

Senior Grace McClaskey has evolved as a leader for the Chargers — helping with the transition of new goals and outlook on her final season.

“Grace McClaskey — it’s been a rough year obviously for her,” Nupnnau said. “and was really hoping this senior season would be a positive note for her. It’s been amazing to see her really embrace that leadership role. She’s not really much of an outspoken leader, but a leader by example. Seeing her just kind of embrace the situation that we are going through and embrace it I think has really helped the other girls embrace it also.”

There is still hope the Chargers will return a healthy lineup to finish the season, and if they do, Nuppnau is confident they’ll be better than ever before.

“We live in a day and age where we want instant gratifcation, and waiting for the reward long term is tough,” he said. “We are just trying to keep them positive and make them realize that good things come to those who wait and if each player can take care of their own individual success and improvement, then the team will get better in the long haul.”

At 2-8, the Chargers will host undefeated and county and conference rival Southmont tonight, with five more Sagamore Conference games and a date with Greencastle to follow.

Winning and losing is no longer the objective for North Montgomery girls’ basketball — and that’s okay.

“This season has really taught me as a coach that there are bigger things in life than winning and losing,” Nupnnau said. “Any average Joe can look at a teams’ record and say how good they are. Anybody that knows anything about a sport and a team, knows there is more to it than that winning and losing. That’s where we have kind of refocused our mindset.”

It’s about learning life lessons and putting their best foot forward, no matter the circumstances and curveballs thrown their way.

“Athletics provides many unique experiences for our student-athletes that they will carry into their adult life,” Merica said. “This season has taught them to be resilient, take advantage of your situation and control the things you can control. I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”

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