Entering this season, Steve Goodwin knew he had a lot of holes to fill in his roster.
With most of the Gremlins roster from last season gone, the Sacred Heart basketball coach was practically starting from scratch.
“I just wanted to continue to make our program competitive,” he said. “We had really good kids that were role players the year before. I just wanted to try to make our program one of the best in the state, as it’s been for over a decade now.”
The new-look lineup went 26-5, won a district championship and — for the first time in Goodwin’s tenure as coach — won the sectional.
“All of the kids that played for us show a tremendous amount of pride in playing for Sacred Heart High School,” said Goodwin, who was named the Area Coach of the Year by the Democrat sports staff. “They were an enjoyable group to be around. They were eager to learn. They listened.”
The Gremlins often went into games knowing they were smaller and knowing that post players like Garrett Strange and Mason Kelchner would be giving up several inches to the post players on the other team.
“There’s not a lot you can do but just play hard, have a lot of balance underneath you, have good positioning and really just fight and play hard-nosed, fundamental basketball when you’re outsized,” Goodwin said. “We tried to do that to the best of our ability.”
The young Gremlins were also able to pull out close games, coming from behind to beat Tipton 59-57, beating St. Paul Lutheran in overtime and coming from behind to beat Santa Fe in the district final.
“We knew we were going to be playing a very tough schedule and we knew a lot of games would be close,” Goodwin said. “I just thought their character rose to the challenge.”
Two of Sacred Heart’s losses came to Tom Ward’s Cole Camp squad, once in the regular season at Cole Camp and once in the Kaysinger Tournament final.
“I thought Tom Ward did a great job with his team and he was also very deserving of being the Kaysinger Conference Coach of the Year this year because that team was excellent,” Goodwin said.
Sacred Heart rebounded from those loses, winning seven in a row through the end of the regular season and districts before falling in the quarterfinal.
“I think we got better as the season went on,” Goodwin said. “It’s a long season and I thought we learned a lot. When you start freshmen and sophomores you’re going to make mistakes and we just made sure those mistakes weren’t duplicated over and over.”
Even with a young, small lineup, Goodwin went into the season thinking the team would improve.
“I think there’s a confidence when you play at our high school that started my first year in 1999 when we finished fifth in the conference and won districts when we were 12-16,” Goodwin said. “I think there’s a confidence that no matter what we’re up against, we feel we can get it done.”