The No. 11 South Side girls basketball team is on the brink of history. No Archers team has ever made it to the state championship game. Despite the program's recent rise and success it only had one team win a regional before this year's squad. That 2007-08 team then lost 80-53 to South Bend Washington at semi-state.
Now, this year's Archers are just one step away from taking the program to heights it has never reached when South Side (23-3) plays No. 8 Warsaw (24-1) Saturday at 6 p.m. at Warsaw.
“It's hard to explain the feeling. It's exciting just to know we have a chance and we're one game away,” All-SAC senior DeJoyah Johnson said. “We're just fighting and hoping to be there (in the state final).”
Even if one win puts South Side into the history books, the Archers don't want to be remembered as just semi-state champions. They have set their sights on a potential state championship.
“Since the beginning of the season, we've felt we were contenders for the state title, and we're just putting that in play,” head coach Juanita Goodwell said. “We've always believed we had an opportunity. We haven't played like that all season long, we've had our down sides, we've had moments where we collapsed, but overall, from the beginning of the season, that mindset has always been there.”
To reach that goal, South Side first has to beat Warsaw. The Tigers reached their first semi-state since the 2003-04 season behind a strong defense to produce its one-loss record, with the loss coming to 3A No. 3 Northwood.
Warsaw has held teams to an average of less than 35 points per game, good enough for the 15th best defense across all classes. The Warsaw defense is almost exactly an opposite style to the Archers.
South Side has averaged just less than 64 points per game offensively, which places them as the 15th best offense in the state.
In terms of seeing how closely related the teams have dominated on their respective ends of the court, look no further than both team's average margin of victory settling in the 18-point range.
“We hope we're able to contain them and control the tempo, but for me, it's all about being prepared as possible going in there,” Goodwell said. “I think we have a good chance, but it's not about what they can do, it's about what we can do.”
What South Side wants to do is limit Warsaw's guards from cutting into the lane. The Archers primarily play a zone defense and Goodwell has been happy with her team's ability to limit this kind of attack throughout the season.
“They have some shooters, but they're inconsistent from the 3-point line, and I hope that can stay that way on Saturday, but their main focus on offense is penetration,” Goodwell said. “They want to get the ball inside and get it to one of their bigs so we are going to have to contain that … and their penetrating, slashing, cutting to the basket.”
Stopping Warsaw offensively won't be the only challenge South Side faces this weekend. With the game at Warsaw, the Archers are sure to face a crowd favoring the Tigers, but South Side has prepared for that throughout the season. They even faced what Goodwell called an “away” crowd last weekend at regionals, where Logansport had a 3-to-1 crowd advantage she said.
“We've had an away season, like all our games were away this year,” Jackson said. “We've only had five home games so we're used to being on the road and playing in front of the other team's home crowd. It's really not going to phase us. Just like any other team, we're used to it.”
If South Side can withstand the crowd and cut down the nets on Warsaw's home court, then it can return home to write itself in the history books. Of course, being a part of a school's history isn't the only place they'll be remembered.
“It's an experience they'll cherish,” Goodwell said, “and, if we are able to get past Saturday, it's just another moment they'll be able to put away and enjoy.”