“Our coach always says, ‘To achieve success, you need to strive for perfection.’ We keep that quote in our minds all through practice and through all the games,” Bellevue sophomore Ali Reeg said.
Reeg and her Comet teammates are taking coach Tim Roth’s words to heart. Bellevue brings a perfect record into Central Catholic Auditorium on Friday night to take on Prince of Peace.
“We had high expectations this year,” Bellevue junior Kelsey Ernst said. “We try to work our best and practice as much as we can.”
Ernst and Reeg combine to average 30.5 points a game, more than half of the team’s total, and have lead their team to a 14-0 record, 9-0 in Big East Conference play.
“I told them at Christmas, we’ve got to think we’re 0-0,” Roth said. “Every game somebody is coming after us. We’ve got a bull’s-eye on our back now. We went through conference once and played everybody. Now they’re going to come after us that much harder. We’ve got to be ready.”
The Comets are two-thirds of the way to a perfect regular season, but regardless if they do it, they will need to win five more postseason games to reach their ultimate goal — a state tournament berth.
“We are so grateful to have the talent that we have on our team,” Reeg said “We share the ball very well. It’s a whole team effort. We’re not going to get big heads. We’re going to keep working hard in practice, working toward what we’ve been dreaming of our whole lives. We have a goal, and we have our minds set to go get it.”
Of course a perfect season, wouldn’t be a bad extra.
“Our fans always say, ’Oh, you guys should lose one, so you know what it feels like,’” Ernst said. “Our coach is telling us not to lose one, to play as hard as we can and go undefeated to prove everyone else wrong.”
The Comets got off to a great start last year, winning their first eight games before the holiday break. But they struggled the rest of the regular season.
“We told ourselves over and over that was not going to happen again,” Reeg said. “We worked extra hard right after Christmas. We told ourselves, ‘Now, don’t overeat over Christmas. Don’t sit on your butts and do nothing.’ That’s what everyone said they did last year.”
Reeg, a sophomore, and Ernst, a junior, may not have been prepared to deal with that bull’s-eye last season.
“Ali is a year older,” Roth said. “Kelsey is a year older. That’s huge. Mollie (Knake) has stepped up her game a lot as a senior. ... We’re just better all the way around. We only lost one senior last year. We’re a year older and a year better. That’s the biggest thing.”
Not only have they improved as far as physical skills go, they’ve also improved some of their more intangible skills on the floor, such as leadership.
“She’s matured a lot,” Roth said of Reeg.
“If my head goes down, then other people’s heads go down, too,” Reeg said. “I can’t let that happen. That’s something that happened to me last year, so one of the things I’ve been working on is attitude.”
Ernst is averaging 18.1 points a game this season, tops in the Big East Conference. Reeg has dished out 88 assists, three behind her total last year and sixth in the state.
“We have this eye-contact thing,” Reeg said. “I know if I give it to her, she’s going to the rim. If she’s got four girls on her, she knows to kick it out. She’s just a smart player. She’s the fastest post I’ve ever seen. She’s got the longest legs. I know if I get the rebound, she’ll be down the court already for one of my lob passes.”
Ernst said: “We’ve been playing together for quite a few years, even playing little league together. We can read each other pretty well on the court.”
The Comets had their own expectations entering the season, but now the outside expectations are raised. Reeg said the girls tried to not let that get to them.
“There’s a lot of expectations,” Reeg said. “People say, ‘You better win this’ or ‘You better be going to state.’ We just say. ‘We hope.’ We’re working at it. We’re not going to say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to state. We’re going undefeated.’ That’s just dumb. Teams that do that usually don’t make it. We have team bonding and we say, ‘We’re not going to let our heads get big. We’re just going to play our game and let people say what they want to say.’”
Bellevue got a taste of postseason success last season, winning three playoff games before losing in the regional final to Monticello. This year, the Comets need one more win.
“If we put our minds to fixing our problems, we have a great chance to go to state,” Reeg said. “Definitely we need to cut down turnovers. That’s been one of my problems and one of our team issues. We are a very hard-working team and we definitely want this goal. We’ll do anything to achieve it.”
Last year, turnovers that cost them against Monticello, but Bellevue needed some late-game heroics from Reeg to make it that far.
“We’ve got a chance like everybody else,” Roth said. “We’re a really good basketball team. Anytime you make a long tournament run, you’ve got to be good, but it takes a break here and there.”
Before they can focus on the postseason, the Comets want to clinch a conference title and go undefeated while they’re at it, but they still have work to do.
“We’ve got to shoot free throws better and score better,” Roth said. “It’s all the little things. We’ve got to rebound. We can’t give second- and third-chance shots. If we can limit other teams to one shot, we’ve got a heck of a chance. ... We keep looking to get better every night in practice.”
A lot of the pressure falls on Ernst and Reeg, with Ernst as a dominant inside presence and Reeg on the perimeter.
“The straw that stirs the drink is Ali out there passing it around for us,” Roth said.
But it really is a team effort.
“Being friends off the court, brings us unity on the court, so we have a tendency to share the ball a lot,” Reeg said. “It’s an awesome habit to have. We have no ball hogs. Everyone gets their chance to score. It’s been really fun.”
The Comets will keep striving for perfection, and they just might get it.