Later this evening, Coach Pete Smith will lead his Guerin Catholic Golden Eagles on to the home court in search of their second sectional win of this post-season. They will face a very talented and seasoned Cardinal Ritter Raiders team. On paper, it would seem the Raiders hold a slight advantage, but anyone who has seen Guerin Catholic play in the last few weeks would tell you that statistics can be deceiving. The Golden Eagles are led by a strong group of unselfish seniors who are playing hard for each other, as evidenced by the four players scoring in double-digits Tuesday night against Bishop Chatard. Smith feels confident his squad is prepared and peaking at the right time.
The 2017-18 campaign got off to a rocky start. After a season-opening win over Herron, the Golden Eagles dropped their next three contests to Roncalli, Hamilton Heights, and Arlington. It was not the start they were hoping for, but they slowly began to work through their issues. They finished December by winning five of their seven remaining games, including a tight win over conference rival Heritage Christian. When the calendar rolled over, that momentum continued to build leading to a 6-1 run to finish the regular season.
“We try to schedule a good schedule to finish,” explained Smith. “We do feel we have some momentum as we head into tonight with a pair of wins on the road (Pendleton Heights and Anderson) and Tuesday’s twenty-point win over Bishop Chatard. Earlier, our first-time win over an athletic North Central team gave our guys some confidence, too.”
If there was a time when they were lacking confidence, they have never been lacking for size. Seniors Jack Hansen (6’7), Zach Munson (6’7), and Drew Thieme (6’5) are all guys who both have a scorer’s touch and the ability to clean the glass. Hansen and Munson are averaging over 33 points and almost 16 rebounds a game. Thieme has been producing at a similar level coming off of the bench. Fellow senior Clay Hepp takes care of distributing to the big men but can also stroke the three.
“They have really grown up this season,” said Smith of his seniors. “Clay missed all of his junior season with a broken hand/finger. He has really picked up his play as the season has progressed and he has gained experience. Drew was a key JV player last season and has really given us great moments when called upon to start games and relieve Jack and Zach in some crucial moments this season. Jack and Zach see double-teams most games. Though they have had some tough games, they have also been really good in most of them. They are quiet leaders, but have grown up a lot this season.”
After winning a regional and state championship during the previous cycle, Guerin Catholic was moved up to 4A for 2015-17 due to the IHSAA’s “Success Factor.” First round defeats to Fishers and Noblesville meant a return to 3A, but not exactly the same competition they had left behind.
“Wow! When we left 3A two years ago due to the ‘Success Factor,’ the sectional was us, Marshall, Chatard, Brebeuf, and Herron. It’s truly become a meat grinder,” exclaimed Smith.
Sectional 27 now contains (statistically) three of the top seven teams in 3A. This includes the defending state champions, Crispus Attucks. Tonight’s opponent, Cardinal Ritter, would be 7th. The Golden Eagles’ 4A-heavy schedule for the back half of the season was assembled with this in mind.
“Yes, I think our schedule, especially in January and February, has us about as prepared as we can be. Sure, we lost some, but we sure saw some things from those opponents that we cannot simulate in practice. We addressed those is practices afterwards. We are a tall, slow, and quiet team this season but have learned how to play to our strengths,” Smith assessed.
Figuring out his team’s strengths and learning to leverage them have been one of Smith’s strong suits. Tonight, he will be attempting to capture his 391st victory over 27 seasons as a head coach. It would be his 207th at the helm of the Golden Eagles. As the only coach in school history, it is hard to imagine GCHS basketball without Smith, but it was almost a reality.
“My wife brought me to Guerin Catholic. I was entertaining thoughts about taking the Marion HS job in ’04, and she was not supportive,” confessed Smith. “She said if I wanted to coach and do something fulfilling, to go ask Guerin Catholic if I could be their basketball coach. Living in Noblesville, it’s been a blessing for me to start their basketball program from scratch and coach these past fourteen years in such a great school with great families. My wife knew what she was talking about!”
Two state championships later, things seem to have worked out well for all involved. Smith’s Golden Eagles will look to take the next step towards a third title tonight at 6pm. If victorious, they would face the winner of the Broad Ripple/Crispus Attucks game (tonight’s second game) on Saturday at 7:30.