Angola girls basketball not ready to abandon place as NECC power just yet

Angola's Ally Lorntz looks for a pass during a February 3, 2017 Sectional semi- final game at Concordia Lutheran High School. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)

For a team to go unbeaten within its conference – in any conference – is an arduous task. But to do it in consecutive seasons would be almost unheard of. However, that is precisely what the Angola girl’s basketball program was on a quest to achieve until Tuesday evening.

The Hornets lost for the first time in Northeast Conference play in nearly two years Tuesday, as they fell to Fairfield 67-47.

The loss dropped Angola to 8-2 overall and 3-1 within the NECC, while the Falcons improved to 8-1 (2-0 NECC).

Fairfield is now one of three unbeaten teams remaining within league play, along with Central Noble (3-0) and Westview (1-0).

“It’s tough,” fourth-year Angola coach Brandon Appleton recently told regarding his program being unbeaten last season in NECC play. “It takes a little bit of luck and a little bit of good talent. But it was a lot of the girls buying in and trusting each other.”

Appleton admittedly found himself at times last season “stepping back” and observing as to whether his team could lead itself, and he liked what he saw, eventually.

“To see a team kind of take over their own destiny,” Appleton explained, “was a really, really rewarding part of being the coach.”

That process to perfection had been just that – a process. The Hornets didn’t become a league power overnight once Appleton took over three seasons ago, especially in this balanced and competitive conference.

In the two previous seasons, the Hornets were a combined 15-7 and finished fifth and third in the conference.

“We need to continue to work hard every day,” Appleton said of building on last season. “We need to continue to try and get better every day.”

During this preseason, Appleton had to make sure that his players understood that what happened last season wouldn’t positively impact this season, and aside from Tuesday’s loss, as well as an early 53-50 defeat at Bishop Luers, it appears that the lesson has been learned.

“We had a talk about where our standards are as a program,” Appleton said. “We had some girls that weren’t meeting those standards and we have some that are meeting those standards. As long as they continue to want to meet that standard on a daily basis, the wins and losses will come, but you just got to keep grinding and taking care of that (process) every single day.”

A large part of that success has involved “luck” and talent,” as Appleton noted, but it also has involved toughness at the defensive end of the floor.

Last season, the Hornets played the most tenacious and consistent defense of Appleton’s tenure, so in a way, it wasn’t surprising that his team was the most successful that it had been.

After allowing over 50 points per game in his first season with the program, Angola improved to 42 points allowed, before lowering that number even further to less than 40 points last year.

“We’ve defended a lot better,” Appleton said his time.

What is interesting is that Appleton had his team pressure opponents with frenzy last year, but the Hornets were able to keep the opponents’ scoring average low, despite the frenetic pace of play.

“We pressed the entire game,” Appleton explained, “but we were still holding teams to 39 a game consistently.”

“Our half-court defense, the way we defended in that, was exceptional.”

The Hornets actually utilized their defensive pressure to fuel their offense, as they improved their offensive output slightly from the season before.

“I had told people, going into last year,” Appleton said, “that that was the best defensive team that I had had while I was in Angola, and going into this year, we’re even better.”

So far, Appleton’s assessment is spot on.

Angola was limiting opponents to 37 points per game this season prior to Tuesday, and has already held three opponents (Eastside, Garrett and New Haven) to 30 or fewer points.

That average was tested Tuesday and will continue to be throughout this season, with the next challenge coming Friday at 6 p.m., as Angola has to travel to Central Noble (6-0).