For a brief moment, Ashley VanEtten was unsure how the year would pan out for St. Teresa's girls basketball team.
After finishing last season with a 21-6 record, the Bulldogs started this year without starting guard Vanessa Nutakor – who tore her ACL at basketball camp during the summer. More bad news struck when Lexie Gifford was sidelined with an ankle injury only five games after the opener.
VanEtten recognized that playing without the leadership of two seniors would be a tough challenge for the Bulldogs to overcome. She sympathized with the disappointment of her players. However, VanEtten remained focused, and she encouraged the team to do the same. After all, there was still a lot of work to be done.
“I told them that 'If you're going to hang your head, you can hang your head for a second. But we have games to play and things to do,' ” VanEtten said. “'You can either continue to hang your head and cry about it, or you can work, you can adapt and you make things happen.'”
The Bulldogs chose the latter option.
In what VanEtten described as an “up-and-down rollercoaster of a season,” St. Teresa went 21-9 for the year. Her squad won its first regional title since 2012, and took on Heyworth in the Class 1A sectional championship game. The Hornets ultimately came out on top in a 50-45 victory.
“When (Nutakor) started playing again at the beginning of January, the players seeing all of the hard work she was putting in to recover made them work harder as well,” VanEtten said. “If she's injured and not even able to play, there's no reason why we can't work just as hard as she was.”
VanEtten is confident that her returning players will carry over that mindset into next season.
“They all have one goal,” she said. “They want to be a team like Central A&M and get to state again. They're ready. They're already asking me when we're starting for summer.”
At the same time, VanEtten doesn't want her players to lose sight of one of basketball's fundamental truths.
“There's more to the game than to win,” VanEtten said. “The wins are great, and I hate to lose, but winning isn't everything. We could go 0-for the season, and I'd still want to come to every practice.
"We only won 13 games during my first season as coach. The girls are putting in the work, and they're working for themselves. Not for me.”
Getting to know VanEtten...
Q: Who are some of your greatest influences as a coach?
A: Growing up, the high school cross country coach in my hometown was my elementary school P.E. Teacher. I was not a runner, but I did it anyway because he was a great coach who loves what he does. He's one of the reasons why I became a coach.
Pat Summitt is another one. I always cheered for her despite being a Wisconsin fan in every other sport. She was tough, but she loved all of her players. Also Bobby Knight. People think he's crazy, but he knows a lot about basketball.
Q: Are you more of a cat person or a dog person?
A: I like all animals, but I prefer cats over dogs. I'm just not the world's biggest fan of dogs. I'm pretty shy and quiet, so I can relate to cats.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I sleep. I don't have too much spare time anymore.
Q: What's your favorite movie?
A: “The Pistol.” It's a movie portraying Pete Maravich's young life.
Q: What's your dream travel destination?
A: I would like to go to Ireland. I am very Irish. My great-grandparents came over on the boats. It would be fun to see where my dad's side of the family came from.
Q: What's your favorite word?
A: The word that I use the most during practices is “frick.” I'm not a huge cusser. My girls will tell you that.