CRANBERRY TWP — It's a 30-point game and Tess Myers is trying to keep the player she is guarding in front of her.
“Move your feet, Tess!” bellows North Catholic girls basketball coach Molly Rottmann from across the gym.
Myers gives the coach a nod.
The focus is on playing sound, no matter the situation and no matter the score.
That's because expectations are different at North Catholic, a program that has won three consecutive WPIAL titles and 19 district crowns overall.
That's because one thing eluded the Trojanettes last season that they desperately want to achieve this time around.
A state title.
North Catholic lost in the PIAA 4A championship game to Bethlehem Catholic, a disappointing loss that cast a blemish on what had been a special season.
The goal since that defeat has been to get back.
And to win it.
It hasn't been easy, contrary to the record and final scores.
Every game the Trojanettes play, it seems, they are expected to win.
“At this point, yeah, it is kind of an expectation,” said Myers, a senior guard who is heading to Duquesne. “That does put a little more pressure on us, but it makes us better.”
So does a challenging non-section schedule.
North Catholic sought out a beefed-up non-league slate with opponents such as Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and nationally ranked Chartiers Valley.
“We're trying to get the best non-section schedule we can,” Rottmann said. “It'll get us ready. You may lose some of them, but it doesn't matter. What's the point of a perfect schedule? It doesn't make you any better.”
North Catholic was humbled a bit by Chartiers Valley at the beginning of the month in a 72-44 loss.
But the Trojanettes believe they got far more out of that setback than from any 30-point victory.
“We learned how important it was to pick each other up,” said senior guard and Butler native Kylee Lewandowski, who is headed to Richmond. “It showed us to focus on the little things.”
Thus the reminder to Myers to stay fundamental on defense despite a 30-point lead.
To get back to the state title game and win it this time, Myers said she and her teammates know they are going to have to reinforce those good habits now so they don't turn into bad ones come playoff time.
“Each day in practice, we have to make each other better,” Myers said. “We need to play harder. In some games, we can get away with not playing fundamental defense, getting out of position. Our coaches remind us we have to hold each other accountable for that kind of stuff. It's the way we're going to get better and be ready for these bigger games.”
Rottmann makes that a strong focus every game.
“What do we need to do to make ourselves better for the playoffs when it counts?” Rottmann said. “We're really trying to focus on that every game, regardless of what the score is.”
Lewandowski said she and her teammates have taken that to heart.
“We know that when we're coming into a game, whether it's section or non-section, we have little things we need to work on,” Lewandowski said. “For example (against Knoch Monday), was our defense. We had to make sure to keep our player in front of us. When you're playing, you can't just turn that switch on and off. You have to be ready each day.”
So far, North Catholic has been ready for most every challenge thrown at it this season.
The Trojanettes are 11-1 and 7-0 in the section and their scoring has been largely balanced with Myers (16 points per game) and Lewandowski (14 points per game) leading the way.
Seniors Emma Pospisil, Cassie Foster, Belle O'Hara and Sarah Berardelli have also provided some scoring punch.
“What makes us dangerous is we have so many other offensive threats,” Myers said. “As long as we move the ball and play as a team, we can compete with anyone.”
The average margin of victory for North Catholic this season has been 23 points.
That certainly won't be the case when the calendar turns to February and the playoffs begin.
That's when North Catholic hopes its effort to focus on the little things to prepare for a title run will bare the most fruit.
“Everybody wants to win,” Lewandowski said. “It's one-and-done. Everyone brings their A game and we have to, too.”