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COLUMN

With Maggard back, Canterbury could contend again

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For more sports commentary, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

The Cavaliers came up one possession short in 2A title game

Monday, March 10, 2014 - 8:53 am

TERRE HAUTE – Minutes after Canterbury's girls basketball team suffered its first state championship game loss, junior Darby Maggard kept running the point.

Canterbury's players trudged off the stage with the runner-up trophy to line up for the team photo. Maggard ordered everyone to smile. It didn't sound optional.

Sure enough, Maggard and teammates put on happy faces long enough for all the shots to be snapped. Then they went back to dealing with their 64-61 loss to Heritage Christian in the Class 2A state title game Saturday at the Hulman Center, and planning how to find a way back next year.

It's going to be a challenge to return to the state stage, given the loss of dynamic forward Kindell Fincher (24 points, 16 rebounds in the title game) to graduation. There's no one on the roster ready to step in immediately and be the presence Fincher has been.

But, as long as Maggard is directing things as an extension of coach Wayne Kreiger and his staff, Canterbury should continue as a contender.

“I think there's always the possibility (of returning to state) if you come in with the right mindset and you're willing to work hard and be together and be a team,” Maggard said. “We've got people coming back and I'm looking forward to it, it's going to be good.”

Maggard, who scored 20 points Saturday, will be the last starter standing from a tremendous group originally built around Bailey Farley, Fincher and Maggard. Also returning will be fellow senior-to-be Katherine Smith, along with younger players Mason VanHouten, who will be a sophomore, and Alexa Habig, who will be a junior. Other younger players will have to step up.

Canterbury (20-5) had won five Class A titles, including 2012 and 2013, before moving up to Class 2A this season.

If Canterbury's younger players are wise, they'll follow Maggard's lead. She's a small player, listed at 5-foot-5, which might be a stretch. It's not her size that makes her a leader, nor her 20.8 points per game average. It's her attitude, her understanding of basketball and her inner drive.

Early on against Heritage Christian, when Canterbury was trying to solve an unexpected zone defense, Maggard was pointing fingers and directing traffic. She dribbled with one hand, directed with the other. She wasn't exactly patient, but that's because the moment called for boldness and confidence.

Good point guards push the ball and their teammates. Good point guards see the game the way coaches do, and know where everyone needs to be to be successful. Good point guards expect a lot from their teammates, and the bar is even higher at Canterbury.

Maggard's mother, Dee Dee, coached several seasons of high school basketball, and that background is evident in her daughter's approach.

Darby Maggard especially likes the challenge of high expectations and said moving up to 2A has been a good thing, even with the tough ending.

“We faced some really good teams and nothing worthwhile is easy,” Maggard said.

Maggard and her teammates will miss Fincher, who was one rebound short of tying the Class 2A state game record after setting the Class A mark at 19 a year ago. Fincher hit 10-of-10 second-half free throws to keep the pressure on Heritage Christian.

Fincher felt the move up in class was a welcome obstacle, too.

“The higher class is where more talent, more competitive teams are,” Fincher said. “I liked it a lot and I'm sure my team did, too. We like to fight. We don't just like to have teams lay down for us. The fight was good.”

VanHouten hit a three-pointer early in the state game to jump-start Canterbury's offense. She'll need to increase her scoring (she averaged 8 points per game) moving forward. Smith, a 6-2 center, struggled early against Heritage Christian's size, but raised her level of play considerably in the second half, another sign of that competitive Canterbury mindset. Habig, who hit a late three, will also need to step up offensively next season.

Canterbury was within one possession of tying the game in the final two minutes but Heritage Christian kept converting free throws to keep its lead.

“That's a heck of a basketball team,” Kreiger said. “They've got depth, they've got size, they've got shooters, they've got speed. We were out there, we competed and that will be our goal -- just to get better and be able to bring home the blue ribbon next year.”

They're already talking at next year at Canterbury. The goals remain the same. And somewhere today, Maggard has her point-guard mind moving ahead, ready to direct the way back.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.