Carlisle coach Tony Phillips talks to his team in a timeout Friday night during a season-opening 49-20 victory over Twin Valley South in 2018. FILE PHOTO

Girls basketball: Offseason work paying off for unbeaten Carlisle

Indians are off to 8-0 start

Carlisle girls basketball coach Tony Phillips couldn’t really blame his players for not fully committing to the offseason workout program he implemented ahead of his first year.

Phillips said he was new and no one knew who he was or what he expected. Getting buy-in took a season of relationship-building, and by this summer, he had it.

Now, the Indians are reaping the rewards of an increased workload in the offseason, and they are off to an 8-0 start in their second season under Phillips – one victory away from tying last year’s win total from a 9-14 finish. Carlisle faces defending Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye champion and state runner-up Waynesville on Saturday.

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“We were extremely young last year,” Phillips said. “Most of the year I started four freshmen. That experience of playing against all the seniors we had to play in the league, that carried over into this year, but the biggest thing was what we did during the summer. Coming into my first year, we didn’t get a lot of participation because no one knew who I was. I set the expectation we were going to need participation to be successful and got complete participation from our first 10 girls.”

That time together enabled the Indians to become even more comfortable in the system and schemes that Phillips brought, and with most of the team returning, there is a chemistry that wasn’t visible previously.

No one on the team averaged more than nine points last season, but now sophomore guard Kaylee Lawson (13.3 points per game), junior center Kaylee Dingee (12.5) and senior guard Caitlyn Stewart (11.2) are all in double figures with two others at eight points or more – sophomore forward Jillian McIntosh is averaging 9.3 points in three games before injury and sophomore guard Sidney Morris sits at 8.2 points per game.

“Those three (leaders) put in more work than anyone in the program,” Phillips said. “Caitlin was in there working on her 3-point shot and now is shooting 43 percent, Kaylee Dingee worked hard in AAU and focused on her post moves and Kaylee Lawson was just shooting all summer. They had a willingness to be great, and it’s paying dividends.”

The Indians are playing with confidence knowing each other’s tendencies and the system, Phillips said, and that has helped them play “extremely fast-paced,” getting up and down the floor, and executing well in the half-court offense.

Carlisle has balance with its outside shooting, driving to the hoop and post play. That will only improve when McIntosh returns from a wrist fracture, hopefully by the beginning of January. Morris also has provided a lift after playing a smaller role last year and now leads the league in assists, averaging 4.7 per game.

Lawson adds 3.5 assists per game in addition to leading the scorers, and Dingee tops the league with her post play, averaging 5.0 blocks and 11.3 rebounds per game.

“It’s an exciting group of girls, and I’m enjoying coaching them,” Phillips said.

Carlisle’s smallest margin of victory was an eight-point win over Madison, a team it split two games with last year. Only two other games were decided by less than 15 points. Phillips said there were a number of games in 2018-19 when the Indians struggled in the fourth quarter and ended up losing by eight to 10 points.

They’ve since learned to execute down the stretch and close out games. Simply put, they’ve learned to win.

“That was our expectation from the start,” Phillips said. “It’s been a long time since we won a league title in girls’ basketball, since 1985 I think. That was the expectation, that is the goal. We want more than that, but one step at a time. They’ve kind of bought into the message.”

Saturday’s game at Waynesville will be the first big test, Phillips said. Waynesville is off to a slow start at 4-4 but has won four straight SWBL titles and has been the barometer for success in the league for a while now.

Phillips has been impressed with his team’s results to this point, but now the Indians will find out just how good they are.

“I’m excited to see what we do,” Phillips said. “I’m not saying we will win, but I want to see how we do against the best. It’s a great opportunity to show what we can do. I don’t think a lot of teams have bought into us yet. That’s ok because we haven’t earned it yet, but I think it will be fun and we will show what we can do.”

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