The past seven months have been an adjustment period for the Notre Dame girls’ basketball team, yet it has been a change that not a single player seems to have a problem with.
Head coach Wes Moore was hired in June, taking over a program that hadn’t won 10 games in recent memory. They reached that plateau with a win over Signal Mountain on Feb. 3, and although they are entering the District 7-AA tournament as a five seed, the Lady Irish enter the tournament as if they have nothing to lose.
The Lady Irish (10-15) will face four seed Chattanooga Christian tonight at CCS at 7. The two teams split games during the regular season, with Notre Dame’s 45-35 victory on their senior night the first win over the Lady Chargers in recent memory — and possibly in school history.
“The girls have been working, working and working. It was good to see that finally pay off with some success,” Moore said. “They’ve done a fantastic job, and I give them all the credit. They come early, they stay late and they’ve bought into what we’re trying to do.”
From day one, Moore tried to change the culture of the program. He gave the team new uniforms, new basketballs and redid the locker room. The idea was to eliminate the past and create a new program. It didn’t get off to the best of starts, and while there have been some bumps in the road, the Lady Irish have plenty to be proud of in terms of accomplishments, which also include a win over Tyner.
Moore realized the challenge ahead after taking the Lady Irish to a team camp at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The team won their first game against, as Moore stated, “a team we shouldn’t have beat.”
“It was fun to see,” he said. “The girls were calling their parents because they had never won a game at team camp.
“At that point, I was OK with where we were knowing how hard these past few years had been for the girls. They’ve got some skill; they’ve got some talent, but it’s never been developed at the varsity level”
Even in some losses — especially to schools in the Sequatchie Valley that had perennially defeated Notre Dame by 40 or 50 in the past — the Lady Irish have competed, which is what Moore requires. They held a lead against district co-champion Sequatchie County until the final minute, then trailed by single digits until late against Grundy County, the district’s other champion and the top seed.
“I think we’ve done pretty well this season, but it could have gone better,” senior guard Montazia Carter said. “We were in some games that we should have won, but I think we’ve come a long way during the season.
“Coach Moore has just worked with us all … one on one. He doesn’t just yell at you and move on; he might yell, but then he comes back and instructs us and tells us what we did wrong and where we could do something better.”
Said Moore: “I’ve just continued to preach to these girls to play hard. I don’t care if they throw the ball in the stands or the rafters, as long as they do it at 100 percent, then sprint back and try to make up for it. You can’t compound a mistake by making another mistake.”
Their season could end tonight, but that doesn’t mean that the Lady Irish haven’t already been victorious. They’ve won more games than at any point in the past 10 seasons, which means they’ve already taken a step in the right direction.
“It’s been very different,” Carter said. “We’ve gained confidence. We still have to shoot well and make smart passes; that’s what kills us. Our defense is excellent, but our offense hurts us when we don’t do those things.
“If we do, I feel we have a chance to be in the district championship game.”