Dan Burkman did his homework upon arriving at Southmont for his first year at the helm of the Mounties’ girls basketball program. He knew two things: The Mounties returned a lot of talent from a 13-win season last year, and they played in a winnable IHSAA Class 2A No. 44 Sectional at South Putnam.
He was right about the returning talent, and took a crop of five seniors to the next level — guiding the Mounties to a perfect 10-0 start before settling for a 12-4 regular season record.
He also knew the host Eagles would be the biggest challenger in the sectional. And it’s clear South Putnam (11-1) and Southmont are the two favorites to win the sectional crown.
“I have been following and watching South Putnam since the beginning of the season as I had them picked out as the possible team to beat in Sectional play when I took my position at Southmont,” Burkman said.
Southmont drew a bye and will player the winner of South Putnam and Riverton Parke (4-14) in the second semifinal on Friday night. The Eagles and Mounties didn’t meet in the regular season, but the Mounties beat the Panthers 56-31.
Even considering the fast start, Burkman has seen tremendous growth throughout his first season.
“We are a completely different team right compared to when we started,” he said. “Many of our improvements will not be found in the stat sheet. We are playing more selfless, team oriented, and most importantly, I have seen them grow in their competitive spirit and enthusiasm for each other. Our recent struggles have only given us the opportunity to work on things important to succeed. We have worked hard to change some habits and build new ones.”
After the 10-0 start, the Mounties lost three-straight. The focus now is taking care of the basketball and working on the offense both in transition and the half-court. Southmont is averaging just 39.8 points a game in its four losses.
“We will focus a lot on handling full court pressure, transition offense, and offensive execution in the half court,” Burkman said about his team’s preparation. “We continue to work on some of our weaknesses. I think moving forward will not be difficult as I have watched the team really come together, develop a competitive spirit and the will to win. We have worked hard to change some habits and build new ones. I think we have come a long way in our goal to get the ball out and go. We seldom see the rebounder dribble the length of the court which was a common practice at the start of the season.”
Sidney Veatch leads the Mounties with 13.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds a contest, while the Mounties average 49.3 points per game and give up 41.8 points a contest. Addison Charles and Natalie Manion both average near 10 points a contest. South Putnam, who hasn’t played since Jan. 12, averages 67.3 points per game against a defensive average of 38.9. The Eagles have three players averaging double-figures, led by Brie Miller’s 13.6 points a contest.
No matter who the opponent is, a win on Friday would put the Mounties in the sectional final, a goal set forth by the team at the beginning of the season. Cloverdale (3-19), North Putnam (10-12), and Parke Heritage (12-6) sit on the other side of the bracket.
“We need to continue to get a good start, play hard, and remain disciplined offensively when things get tough,” Burkman said. “I believe a basketball game is a game of runs and we have to stay poised when things are not going our way. Strategically, we must limit our turnovers, get transition points, and crash the offensive boards in order to win the sectional.”