Doug Laker remembers the lean years vividly. In 2008-09 when he took over the Greenfield- Central girls basketball program, games often felt like practices.
With more empty seats in the stands than applauding hands, the Cougars were building toward something special, even if they didn’t realize it at the time.
Each winning season was a step, said Laker. It was 12 wins the first year, followed by 16 and then 13 after a rough 9-11 campaign in 2010-11.
The 2012-13 season was even harder at 8-13, but success piled on rapidly, beginning with a share of the Hoosier Heritage Conference title with Pendleton Heights and rival Mt. Vernon in 2013-14.
“When we first started this program, there wasn’t a lot of big fanfare,” Laker said. “But when you go out and play hard, the fans will come.”
On Friday night, inside a sweltering gym, while there were some vacant sections, it was nothing like the past.
One hundred and six coaching victories and a 17-4 record after the Cougars thumped Mt. Vernon 75-40 on Friday brings more than support — it raises expectations.
And these Cougars are ready to meet them — together.
Ranked 10th in Class 4A, 17th in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association’s top-20 poll, Greenfield-Central are 6-0 in the HHC with one more game to go on Tuesday to clinch the program’s first outright title in school history.
On the team’s dry-erase board outside the locker room, one sentence summed up the focus against Mt. Vernon — and every game moving forward.
“You can control your own destiny.”
A 24-0 run in the first half against a Marauders team decimated by injuries this season, put those words into action. Four runs of eight points or more sent a message as their lead reached its peak at 46 points.
“We’ve won seven games in a row against the conference. The last game we lost was to Mt. Vernon, so it’s just expectations of yourself,” Laker said. “Sometimes failure happens, but it’s about how you battle from that.”
The last big setback was in February, a year ago, in the sectional against the Marauders and the county’s all-time leading scorer in girls basketball, Butler-bound Sydney Shelton. The Cougars lost twice to Mt. Vernon in 2014-15, three in a row stemming back from the 2013-14 sectional, which stung worse because the team beat Mt. Vernon in the regular-season weeks prior.
“They want some payback,” a fan in the crowd sounded off on Friday night.
With Shelton and her 24.1 points per game average sidelined due to a leg injury, which might cost the point guard the rest of her senior season, the Cougars wanted exactly that. But they really didn’t care who was on the floor. They have a job to finish, beginning with the HHC.
“I hope Sydney (Shelton) heals quickly. I just hope she can get back for sectional,” said Greenfield-Central junior Katie Helgason, who had 13 points and seven steals on Friday. “But knowing that we can beat them, it gives us a lot of confidence.”
Not that they needed it having already knocked off the ranked likes of North Central, Westfield, Plainfield and New Castle along the way this season.
Led by junior Madison Wise, who is ranked as the 58th best player in her class by ESPN, the Cougars aren’t ahead of schedule.
“This is right where we wanted to be, right where we thought we would be,” Laker emphasized. “It started a couple of years ago and with the seniors last year. The program is right where we want it to be and we’re not done.”
Not now or even next season. With only one senior starter (Savannah Girolami) and reliant on Wise, who poured in 24 points and hauled in 10 boards in the Cougars win, the future is unfolding.
“It wasn’t as much of a mental hurdle tonight as much as it was getting back at them for beating us,” Wise said. “It was really important to get this win, and we came out strong.”
What else can a team trying to chase down it’s first sectional title since 2004 do?
Control it’s own destiny, from the top to the bottom.
“When you do the right things, the wins take care of themselves,” Laker said. “I think it’s our (six) seniors. It starts with them. They understand their role and know the expectations. Our upperclassmen get it because of the seniors.”