Because of their respect for Notre Dame’s perennially successful girls basketball program, opposing coaches looking at the possibility of scheduling the Pioneers weren’t buying coach Nolan Theriot’s assessment of this year’s team.
“I knew we would be young and inexperienced,” said Theriot, now in his 10th season. “You just can’t convince people that you’ve played that you’re not going to be as good. I tried to downscale the schedule a little.”
For a team with two returning starters and no experienced depth, Theriot wound up having to push his Class 2A team well outside of their comfort zone during the early portion of the season, scheduling nine games against Class 3A teams and above.
Combined with the success of the school’s volleyball team, which contained several members of the basketball squad, Notre Dame endured a trying first month, losing six of its first 10 games.
However, the strength of that rigid schedule forced the Pios to grow up quickly and led to a gradual development that was evident during a run to the District 5-2A title and should serve them well in the postseason.
No. 18 Notre Dame (14-10) opens Class 2A state playoff action against No. 15 Doyle (16-16) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Doyle Elementary.
“We played people I knew we wouldn’t be able to compete with and win ballgames,” Theriot said. “I was hoping that at least if we took our licks we would learn from it, and we did.”
Basketball season tipped off 10 days after Notre Dame’s volleyball team lost in the Division IV state semifinals and the basketball team losing 36-19 to Jennings.
Notre Dame lost to playoff-bound teams such as Northside, Teurlings Catholic (twice), Vermilion Catholic and eventual district champions Cecilia and Lafayette Christian Academy.
“It’s always been the same thing,” Theriot said of sharing athletes with other sports. “It’s a matter of how much basketball they know coming into the season. We’ve won ballgames because kids knew what was going on. We had experienced players.”
Senior guard Hunter LeBlanc and 6-foot sophomore center Alyssa Williams represented Notre Dame’s returning starters from a team that lost to E.D. White in the Class 3A state regionals last season.
Beyond that, the Pios welcomed a lot of new faces after last year’s top two reserves opted to play other sports.
“We were basically starting from scratch,” Theriot said.
Moreover, the loss of sophomore starting guard Catherine Gonzalez to a torn ACL in mid-December further eroded a team already lack of experience.
Theriot said the advancement of freshman point guard Sydnei Simon has been a catalyst in the elevation of the team’s play. Junior Annie Matthews, who moved from forward to guard during the summer, has been the team’s most improved player and sophomore guard Abbey Higginbotham has provided a capable scoring presence during district.
Sophomore guard Leeann Gray and junior forward Abbie Simon have filled huge voids in reserve roles.
“I could see early on we were progressing in ballgames from quarter to quarter,” Theriot said. “You could see how we were better in the fourth quarter than in the first quarter. We were improving throughout.”