Class A Districts: Youthful Niles taking on experienced Bears

Published 11:35 am Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Niles girls basketball team will battle St. Joseph Monday night in the Class A District Tournament. (Leader Photo/File)

The Niles girls basketball team will battle St. Joseph Monday night in the Class A District Tournament. (Leader Photo/File)

Niles girls basketball coach Pat Touhey is a competitive realist.

Although he knows there is very little chance that his youth-laden team will upset host St. Joseph Monday in the opening round of the Class A district tournament, the fifth-year coach is preparing the Lady Vikings to put themselves in position to do exactly that.

“We really have nothing to lose,” Touhey said about his 0-20 team that has featured a starting lineup this season of as many as five freshmen. “There are no expectations on our team to progress through the tourney, so our kids should not feel a lot of pressure.

“For us to have any chance at pulling off a huge upset, we have to continue to take care of business on the defensive end and level off the rebounding battle.  We then have to take care of the basketball.  We cannot win if we are in the 20s to 30s in respect to turnovers.  If we can take care of these areas, we can have a chance down the (stretch) despite our lack of putting the ball in the basket.”

At this stage of their development as basketball players, the Lady Vikings have become aggressively more confident and successful at the defensive end of the court as the season has evolved. Niles’ inability to convert at the offensive end, coupled with a high number of turnovers, has clearly been its undoing.

But Touhey sees brighter days ahead for his team, and envisions a scenario when his team is mentioned as a favorite to win a district championship.

“One of our long-term goals is to win the district tourney,” he said. “To have any chance of doing that two or three years from now, there are a number of things that have to happen.

“The kids have to truly want that to happen for each other, and be committed, as a team, to that goal.  They must continue to develop a respect and love for each other that allows them to work through the adversity that occurs during a long season in a positive way and they each must take ownership in the individual skill sets that they need to continue to improve upon.”

As for this year’s district tournament, Touhey said he believes as many as four teams can emerge as champion at the end of the week.

“I really think it is wide open for many teams,” Touhey said. “St Joe, Kalamazoo Central, Mattawan and Portage Northern are fully capable of knocking each other out of the tourney.  It makes it exciting because I think there are going to be many close hard fought games. There is a lot of parity this year which is the primary reason why the eventual champion in our district could go to a number of teams.”

District action begins Monday night at three sights. In addition to Niles at St. Joseph, other games include Portage Central at Kalamazoo Central and Mattawan at Portage Northern.

Semifinal and championship games will be staged at Portage Central. Wednesday, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix awaits the Portage Central-Kalamazoo Central winner, with the Niles-St. Joseph winner facing the Mattawan-Portage Northern winner in the second semifinal.

The championship game is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m.