For the North Putnam girls' basketball team, the goal was laid out by head coach Curtis Lawrence.
"My goal before the season was very simple," Lawrence said. "Are we better the last day of the season than we were the first day of the season?"
The Cougars opened the year with a 41-point loss to Crawfordsville. The challenge they face Wednesday is to prove that they're better than that.
"We're a better team now than we were in game one," Lawrence said. "We've gotten better ball-handling wise. We're not turning the ball over as much. That has become a strength. The fact that we're being more aggressive offensively has become a strength. Our rebounding has gotten better."
After starting the year 1-10, the Cougars made changes. They began establishing strengths, pressing more on defense and taking better shots on offense. Working on pressure defense in practice helped improve their ball control on offense.
"The first part of the year, we were shooting a lot of outside shots," Lawrence said. "We were shooting a lot of three-pointers. If you look at our last five or six games, we're maybe getting one or two three-point shots ups. So we've really concentrated on getting the ball down inside now."
Senior Sam Lucas has been staying out of foul trouble, and staying in the paint. Freshman Taylor Nauert has come up from the junior varsity team to add to the frontcourt depth.
Mostly, though, the ball handling and leadership of junior point guard Bethany Wiatt has turned things around.
Wiatt has become more aggressive, and more of a threat on both ends of the court. They'll need it against the Athenians, who have a star point guard of their own in sophomore Lacy Garrett.
Garrett is averaging 4.6 assists and 3.1 steals per game. Her quickness, and the Athenian's 1-3-1 zone defense, caused fits for the Cougars the first time they played.
"Lacy does a nice job," Lawrence said. "She's really quick. She hurt us the first game. They played us 1-3-1 most of the game, which gave us some problems early on in the year. But I think we've made some adjustments. We're definitely taking better care of the ball now than we were then."
The Cougars had nearly 40 turnovers that game, with Garrett stealing 11 of them.
The average is closer to 20 now, Lawrence said.
All of the Cougars starters have begun accepting their roles, and more success has come.
They're 3-6 in the recent stretch and enter the postseason on a positive note.
"I think the kids have all grown," Lawrence said. "Bethany has grown as a point guard. Sam has done a nice job in the post for us all year. (Senior Cayla Kientz) with her hustle. (Sophomore Morgan Smith) with her penetration. Madi Asbell with her aggressiveness."
With better ball control, and better shot selection, the Cougars will be able to face the Athenians without backing down.
"If we come out and play the way we're capable of and do the things that we're capable of, we can make it a ball game," Lawrence said. "If we take care of the ball and knock down 10-15 foot jumpshots. If we can do that, then we'll be in the ball game."
(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]