Art by Scarlett Hatton.
Story by Jadon Stoner.
In past years, the Highlanders would sprint onto the court in the Doghouse to a mixture of boos and cheers. During all 20 minutes of warm-ups, both student sections would chant back and forth, waking up their vocals for the upcoming battle ahead. When the referee throws the ball in the air and the first possession begins, side conversations disappear. Hundreds of students and thousands of other fans become fully engaged with the action on the court in the hope that their team will prevail, providing them with the ultimate bragging rights over the other.
This one-of-a-kind atmosphere will be different this year, as is almost everything in daily life. The Doghouse is a large arena, but with the COVID-19 restrictions, the number of fans allowed in will be greatly reduced. Even with these odd circumstances changing a usually very memorable game, FC looks to push past the adversity and come out with a win.
“I think we match up well. Both teams have some returning varsity players and we both have really good teams this year,” said junior forward Brady Moore.
Though it is likely that it will be a tight game, the two teams will showcase a stark contrast in styles of play due to where their strengths lie.
“We’re two different teams this year, considering we have a lot of size, and New Albany is really guard heavy, but I think our size and length can help us with that,” said senior guard Jake Heidbreder.
Junior center Wesley Celichowski identified a few areas the team will need to capitalize on in order to be successful.
“We are a larger team, so if we rebound and play good defense that should help us be successful.”
The Bulldogs already have three games under their belt. They beat 2A Clarksville by 54 points in their first game of the year and beat a very talented Bloomington South team 61-36. The team then defeated Evansville Harrison 49-31 to start the season with three wins.
Head boys’ basketball coach Todd Sturgeon recognizes the areas that New Albany has excelled in to get off to such a good start.
“They’ve got an explosive backcourt of guys who can score the basketball and who are proven scorers. In their first couple of games a lot of other guys have made shots as well. We always know them to be an excellent defensive team and they’re looking pretty explosive offensively as well so far,” said Sturgeon.
As Sturgeon mentioned, a big part of this early success from the Bulldogs is their sharp shooting guards, putting that on display against Bloomington South where they made nine three-pointers.
“I think a big emphasis will be on keeping New Albany’s shooters from getting good looks. They have a lot of guys who can shoot it so that will be key,” said Moore.
Heidbreder agrees that guarding New Albany from beyond the arc will be critical, as well as using the aforementioned size advantage to get easy baskets.
“Some areas to emphasize before going into the game will be perimeter defense and making sure our communication is great and knowing where their shooters are. Also on offense, trying to get it into the post and play in and out that way I feel like can really benefit us,” said Heidbreder.
There are also certain things the team must do well against any team to come out with a victory, not just specifically against New Albany.
“[We] have to take care of the basketball and not turn it over against their pressure. If you do that, you’re not going to have any chance. We’ve got to be able to defend them and keep the score at a manageable point. [Against] good offensive teams you’re not going to hold them in the 30s, but we’ve got to make sure that they don’t get into the 60s,” said Sturgeon.
The Highlanders won their first game 67-62 over Castle and then defeated Clarksville 70-44 to get off to a 2-0 start.
In this early season rivalry matchup, the Highlanders feel confident they can come out of the Doghouse with a victory, as they did just two seasons ago.
“I feel that just our natural size and lengths will help us a lot against them. We need to use it to our advantage and try to get every defensive rebound and limit second chance shots while also getting our own misses. I also think it can help us be successful by guarding in the paint with active hands and using our length,” said Heidbreder.
Moore also feels that the Highlanders’ big bodies will give them the edge over New Albany.
“I think we have more size than New Albany which hopefully will give us a rebounding advantage, as well as help to provide some scoring inside for us.”
Because of the restrictions on fan capacity, this year’s game will feel a lot different than past years, and the team will have to adjust to these changes and find a way to still perform at a high level.
Sturgeon said, “Everybody’s going to have to get used to a little different environment. It’s going to be more like a travel team basketball environment with a few hundred fans instead of a few thousand fans. Obviously these games have produced some great games and tremendous fan support, so it’ll be a little different environment from that standpoint, so it’ll be interesting [to see] how teams are going to deal with that. I don’t know if that’s going to take away some home court advantage or not this year. We’ll have to see how that plays itself out.”