Bailey Farley knows when the nerves will come as Canterbury High School's girls basketball team plays for the Class A state title Saturday. She also knows when they'll leave.
Farley, a senior, will be playing in her third state championship game in four seasons.
“The moment I'm nervous the most is when we're all standing around center court waiting for the ball to tip off,” Farley said. “After the ball's tipped, it's on, and the nerves are gone.”
When “it's on,” few teams excel the way Canterbury can. Few teams can shake the nerves of a big game and the accompanying pressure the way Canterbury can. Few teams zero in on the necessary concentration faster.
Canterbury (24-3) will shoot for its fifth state title in six seasons when it plays Vincennes Rivet (22-4) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute. Every regular in the Canterbury rotation except for newcomer Katherine Smith was part of the state title team a year ago.
Nerves are inevitable, as is Canterbury's meticulous preparation and play.
“Experience is a great teacher,” coach Wayne Kreiger said. “It's one of the things that gives us an advantage. This group has been on that stage. They understand, for the most part, what it takes to get there, how to handle themselves when they get there and what needs to be done. There's more to it than showing up.”
The Cavaliers have dominated the tournament this season. They've come out fast, set the tone early and forced their opponents to try to play catch up. Occasionally, those opponents will make a run, as Lafayette Central Catholic did, but that only seems to inspire the Cavaliers to shift into higher gear again.
“Our semistate game, how we came out was perfect to me,” Farley said. “We were passing the ball really well to each other. We were active seeking our shots. Our defense was on point. If we could somehow extrapolate that to all four quarters, that would be the perfect game for us.”
If there's any flaw with Canterbury's team, it's the fact they sometimes “relax” with a big leader, Kreiger said. But that's human nature. It only takes a few minutes before Kreiger is able to push the right buttons again to turn up the intensity.
The addition of Smith to the lineup recently has also added another weapon for Canterbury. Smith, a sophomore, transferred from Homestead but had to sit out 365 days after her transfer to be eligible to play varsity basketball. At 6-foot-2, she adds some significant size to the lineup.
Smith has played in five games, averaging 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
“Her presence inside has been very helpful,” Kreiger said. “Adding to our depth is another major factor for us, if we have foul problems. Mismatches, she can help us with. Rebounding is something we emphasize with her as well.”
Smith played most of the season on the junior varsity but began practicing regularly with the varsity over the last month, and she said the players have been very accepting of her increased role.
“I've really enjoyed coming onto the team,” Smith said. “Everything is going as best as I could imagine. It's like a family here.”
Canterbury will travel to Terre Haute, practice at the arena Friday and get a night's rest in a local hotel before the game Saturday morning. The state routine is one they know well and one in which they will likely excel.
Point guard Darby Maggard said the team hopes to draw on all of its experience and talent to land another state title. The focus will intensify by Friday.
“We'll review everything we've talked about in practice this week,” Maggard said. “Coach will just remind us of this great opportunity and make sure we're out there working hard and taking advantage of it.”