With the basketball season winding down, business really begins to become serious for Loogootee.
The defending Class A state champions have compiled a 15-4 record. Loogootee knew that state championship would bring the best from each team it faced this winter, and that has held reasonably true to form.
But does the pressure increase once the tournament arrives at the end of the month?
Do the stakes get higher for player and coach alike?
"In our mind set, the next biggest thing is the next game," Loogootee coach Mike Wagoner said. "Right now that's Friday at Jasper. I think it's just natural that people will be talking about our tournament run last year. We expect win and our fans expect to win. That's just Loogootee, but we will approach things from what game is next. We have to worry about how we play and the things we can control." Winning the conference, which Loogootee could do with a season-ending home win against North Knox Feb. 21, is the first goal to accomplish. It would be the third conference championship for Loogootee in the past nine years, the last coming in 2011.
"Sometimes the last game is a hard game to get," Wagoner said. "We're setting pretty well with one game left. North Knox has a lot of really young players with ability. They'll come in and give us everything they've got. We've got the shot, and we¹re looking forward to it." A key cog in the title defense has been senior post player Conner Wittmer.
Not only has he been a team leader, but is also posting some impressive career numbers.
"I pretty much expected Conner to lead us and he has," Wagoner said.
"We've got one of the best centers in Indiana playing for us. He's a 1,000-point scorer, he's going to be in the top five in assists, he's going to be in the top three in rebounds. Very rarely do you have a player like that come along. He's also had a good supporting cast.
"Matt (Mathias) is where we thought he would be at 10 to 12 per game," Wagoner said. "Colin (Nelson) is our floor leader. A big addition has been Cam Wagler. He has played well and come alive on the defensive end. Cam and Conner has been getting the job done on the boards. Will Nonte is increasing his scoring, and Waylon Matthews has been super." To date, the season has been what Wagoner anticipated. He likes the way his team has responded to the challenges of being a defending state champion.
"The good thing is the way the players have responded to the season," Wagoner said. "We've got young guys like Hayden Bell and Darian Stewart coming up. We're eight deep, and the players have learned what their roles are. The biggest thing is to mold the team to where the players know their roles. The guys have experience. They will be a bit nervous like anyone would be, but once the tournament starts, there will be more people nervous in the stands than on the floor."