Concluding the regular season with a 14-game winning streak, a 19-2 record and a loss-free Western Indiana Conference title run sounds great to the Sullivan High School girls basketball team.
Being ranked No. 3 in the state in the latest Class 2A poll doesn’t sound bad either.
In fact, coach Julie Meeks’ Golden Arrows have not tasted defeat since Dec. 6 — almost two months ago — when Class 4A’s Terre Haute North handed them a 37-30 setback.
Not surprisingly, they’d like to still be able to make that claim March 2 when the state tournament crowns its Class 2A champion inside Terre Haute’s Hulman Center.
They’ll try to take the first step toward achieving that goal Wednesday when the Arrows face Eastern Greene (9-10) at 6 p.m. in the Sullivan Sectional. North Knox (13-9) and Bloomfield (7-13) will get action started in that sectional at 7 tonight.
A victory Wednesday would propel Sullivan into a sectional semifinal contest against the Linton-South Knox survivor at 7:30 Friday. The sectional championship game is slated for 7:30 Saturday.
“We are playing very well as a team,” Meeks told the Tribune-Star late last week. “As the season has gone on, we’ve had different players step up and do our scoring. Mainly, though, our scoring has come from [seniors] Rhagen Smith and Caelan Jones.”
The 6-foot-2 Smith already has signed to play for Indiana State next season, and the 5-3 Jones has verbally committed to attend Danville Area Community College.
“Rhagen is a force inside and she’s been difficult for other teams to stop or slow down,” Meeks said. “Last year, she averaged roughly 15 points per game. This year, she’s averaging 22 points [and 10 rebounds] a game. But she’s an outstanding all-around player, too. Defensively, she takes away a lot of shots inside and she works hard down low.
“Offensively, she looks to kick it back out when she’s doubled down on. Our whole team really shares the ball well.”
Meeks offered words of praise for Jones as well.
“Caelan is our floor leader,” the Arrows’ 10th-year coach said. “She’s the one who really runs the show. Without her in the game — like when she’s in foul trouble — things don’t work quite as well. She’s the one who gets us going. Defensively, you won’t find any player who plays any harder. If there’s a loose ball, you can count on Caelan diving after it. When she steps out on the floor … she never lacks effort. She has a lot of heart and desire.”
Jones tallies about 12 points per outing.
Meeks also knows she can count on the other senior starters for consistent production — 5-9 forward Cobie Harrison, 5-5 guard Sydney Chapman and 5-3 guard Jaleigh Gilham.
Meeks stressed that nobody on this team cares about who gets credit for victories.
“These seniors are very unselfish,” she said. “We’re very unselfish with the ball. Opposing teams have to worry about all five players out there, not just one or two.”
“We’re extremely unselfish,” Smith added. “Everyone is willing to make a pass before they take a shot. No one has to be the hero. We just want to focus on getting the win.”
“It’s unbelievable — the way we all read each other,” Jones replied when asked about the chemistry of the seniors. “We’re lucky to have all five of us.”
That chemistry has been simmering for about seven years because that’s how long the five starting seniors have played organized basketball together.
Jones thinks that’s one reason the Arrows can go all the way.
“I think, if we play the way we all know how to, we can go all the way,” she said. “That’s just how I feel. I’m not trying to be cocky about the situation, but I’m trying to be positive. We’ve all worked so hard for it. Our starting five has been together since the fifth grade.”
Meeks, however, prefers not to look that far ahead — not yet anyway.
“If we get out of our sectional, our regional [at Paoli] could be one of the toughest in the state,” she pointed out. “There could be us, there could be Paoli, there could be Evansville Mater Dei [which eliminated Sullivan from the regional last season] and there could be Austin.”
All of those potential regional participants are ranked in the top 10, with Mater Dei sitting at No. 1.
“But I know you can’t go by rankings,” Meeks continued. “As soon as that tournament starts, your record doesn’t really mean anything.”
That’s why Meeks isn’t overlooking the sectional, where she figures North Knox is a likely candidate to be in Saturday’s championship game. A year ago, Sullivan fought hard to beat North Knox 50-43 in the sectional finale at Bloomfield.
“I think we need to take it one game at a time,” Smith said. “But I think we have the talent and work ethic to make it real far in the tournament, maybe even all the way.”
Meeks also credits 5-4 reserve Emily Cottom, a junior move-in from Terre Haute, for contributing to the Arrows’ regular-season success.
“She’s been a nice asset to the team,” the Arrows’ veteran coach noted. “She’s really fit in well with the rest of the team.
“This team really gets along. They all seem to be friends. They just want to win. They want to see how far we can get in the tournament and I think we’ve got a great opportunity to go far.”
And when their tournament run screeches to a halt — whether that be this week or March 2 — Smith and Jones must face the reality that they’ll probably never play an organized game together again.
Neither is looking forward to being away from the other, but both are looking forward to their futures in basketball.
“Caelan gets the ball to me a lot,” Smith said. “She and I have been playing together since we were 4 years old. We have a sense for where each other is on the court. We’ve been not only teammates, but real good friends growing up. I can’t even guess how many games we’ve played together.”
“It’s a blast to play with Rhagen,” Jones insisted. “We’ve been playing together so long. We read each other so well. It’s crazy. We really are lucky to have each other. … I’m going to miss Rhagen big time.”
The good part of their futures, they agreed, is their college choices.
Smith said she’s attended two ISU home games this season and she left impressed.
“I’ve been following their season,” she mentioned. “They’ve been playing really well. They’re a young team. They’ve got a lot of girls who are dedicated and want to work hard. Their coaching staff is really excited about their future. I really think the program is on the upswing.”
Jones, who committed to Danville on Jan. 25, said the personality of coach Kyle Bent is one reason for her decision.
“And for being a junior college, it’s a very nice campus,” she added. “I’m real excited about it.”