If Canterbury wins its sixth state title on Saturday, it will tie Bishop Luers for the most in Indiana girls basketball history.
For more on Canterbury at the Class 2A state finals Saturday, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
Before delving into how positive attitude and body language catapulted Canterbury's girls basketball team into another state title game, let's be clear: Talent helps.
The Cavaliers aren't on the verge of a third straight title, and first in Class 2A, because they're all sunshine and flowers. Scoring machine Kindell Fincher can spin and drive inside, finish fast breaks and hit all sorts of jump shots. Pint-sized point guard Darby Maggard handles the ball with Globetrotter finesse. The inside presence of 6-foot-2 Katherine Smith anchors quality post play and rebounding.
In short, they can play.
Canterbury (20-4) plays No.1 Heritage Christian (26-1) for the Class 2A state title about 12:45 p.m. Saturday in the Hulman Center, Terre Haute.
But if it were only talent, Cavaliers could be sitting home today.
If it were only talent, they couldn't have looked at the scoreboard in the third quarter against Tipton last Saturday, seen themselves in a 10-point hole and believed they'd climb out.
“You always try to keep a positive mindset, a positive outlook on things,” Maggard said. “Coach, in the huddle, was focused on what we needed to do to get back in the game and to push forward and to win the game. I thought that started with Coach and his positive outlook on the game and it translated to ours.”
It's likely coach Wayne Kreiger pushed the “think positive” buttons a bit with some emotion in the huddle, but if it had been just one game, just one moment of such a spin, it wouldn't have taken hold.
No, this moment of truth – trailing by double digits with time slipping away – revealed how the Canterbury positive approach pays off. Canterbury went on a 20-2 run and won 79-65.
There's a culture at Canterbury, championed by Athletic Director Ken Harkenrider's devotion to the teachings of the Positive Coaching Alliance, that sets its athletes up to handle these types of stressful situations. It's easy to get down, feel frustrated, point figures and complain about circumstances working against a team in that situation.
It's quite another thing to flush the immediate past and keep looking forward, keep being positive.
“It definitely takes some training,” Maggard said. “Coach, he's said that all year. He wants us to come in every day and have positive body language and be a positive basketball team. Positive energy produces positive results. He speaks that every day, and I think it translated to our game last Saturday and hopefully it will translate this Saturday, too.”
Coaches have to buy into the philosophy. It's not about patting everyone on the back and handing out participation trophies. It doesn't prohibit coaches from yelling or disciplining or offering criticism. But there is a distinct effort to gear coaching and teamwork toward higher standards.
Kreiger didn't need persuading. His tough but positive style of coaching comes from years on the sideline. His first gig was coaching junior high basketball in 1964, so it's safe to say he's seen and tried many approaches. He's already in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
He understands the benefits of the positive mindset in athletes and teams.
“The Positive Coaching Alliance is one of the things Mr. Harkenrider is really involved in, and it's something that we actually follow,” Kreiger said. “It does play a big role in terms of the coaches' perspective and transferring that on to the players' perspective as well. We try to be positive and upbeat in all situations.”
That doesn't mean everything is rosy all the time.
“We try to keep that in front of them – that it's not always going to be easy,” Kreiger said. “Just because things don't go our way, it doesn't mean fold our tents and go home. It's continue to be positive and do the best we can and bring ourselves to the point where we see the light at the end of the tunnel and go ahead and break through it.”
The positive approach works within the framework of the team's talent and coaching acumen. When Canterbury fell so far behind on Saturday, the Cavaliers had to make strategic adjustments to go with their mental attitude. Kreiger went with a 2-3 trapping zone, the Cavaliers' quickness and tenacity paid off and a run was born.
Is that possible if everyone's in the huddle sulking and dwelling on mistakes? Maybe, but it's far from likely.
“Our coaching staff is great with helping us stay up and keeping each other up,” Fincher said. “We are such a strong team that when we see a teammate down, we pick them up. If we see them down, we pick them up and say encouraging stuff to get them back to playing their game.”
Fincher and Maggard will be part of their third state championship game as starters. They've already helped put two state championship trophies in the hallway outside the school gymnasium.
Maggard said she learned the benefits of a positive mindset from her mother, Dee Dee, who coached at Whitko. Those lessons have been reinforced with words and results at Canterbury.
“You never want to show negative emotion out on the court," Maggard said. "I think that really just translates to your team. Being upperclassmen, Kindell and I try to be the leaders on the team and try to have a positive body language every time we're out there.
"There are times, you've got to keep pushing. You can't let your mind go to that negative side. You just have to keep going and keep going as hard as you can.”
Fincher said she consciously tries to keep her head up, a smile on her face during stressful times and her eyes focused on the next step.
Positive energy produces positive results. That's Canterbury's winning culture.