Times Staff Reporter
As middle school girls' basketball comes to a close at North Clay, the seventh-grade Lady Knights head into their season finale tonight with a chance to accomplish a truly rare feat.
Thus far the Knights have played 21 games, which have all resulted in victories. A win against Greencastle this evening would lead to the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment; a perfect season.
"Obviously you want to see it happen," Knights coach Kevin Kumpf said following his team's 48-29 win against Owen Valley Tuesday night. "You don't want to go all year only to lose for the first time in your last game, but no matter what happens, this has been a great season."
The season marked a smashing return to coaching for Kumpf, who had coached both seventh and-eighth-grade boys basketball at North Clay for many years, before stepping down at the end of the 2003 season, as he stepped in to replace Tony McCarter. He said he was enticed to return to the bench because he knew there was a great deal of coachable talent on the seventh-grade roster.
"I knew going in this was a good group of girls," Kumpf said. "I was excited to get the opportunity to teach them the right things."
The Knights have had a great deal of balanced contribution from various players all year. Mikayla Rowan has been a dominant inside force, even recording an astonishing 23 rebounds in a single game. Other major contributors have been Emily Conrad, Whitney Halfhill and Abbey Timberman.
There was also a personal reason for Kumpf to return to the bench this season. Another major contributor to the unbeaten Knights is the coach's own daughter McKenzi.
"If I weren't coaching from the bench, I'd be coaching from the bleachers," Kumpf said.
Also making the transition back to the hardwood for Kumpf was a longstanding friendship with North Clay Athletic Director Jan Gambill. Gambill and Kumpf have a long history together, as they both came up the coaching ranks with the high school girls program at Van Buren High School in the 1970's and 80's and each have been active in North Clay athletics for many years.
"It's been fun to see (Kumpf) come back and coach these girls," Gambill said.
Gambill said Kumpf's influence on his players has shined through and brought out the best of what was an obviously talented group, and said she thought they would prove to do a more than adequate job of helping to rebuild a struggling Northview girls program, which limped to a 4-17 record in 2009-2010.
"This just a great group of girls overall," Gambill said. "They have a great enthusiasm for each other and they understand what they have to do on the court. It's going to be fun to watch them go through their high school career."
Kumpf said despite all the accolades, which include a WIC Tournament victory, his greatest joy has come from watching the progress and development his players have showcased during the season. He stressed his team was set apart from most good teams by their willingness to learn and get better with each passing game.
"The girls really hit their stride about four or five games in, and since then they've really just taken off," Kumpf said. "It's a lot different to have girls who are willing to work with you than girls who just want to play, and never really get with the program."
Despite the long lay off which proceeded this season, Kumpf said coaching what could end up to be a historically successful team at North Clay has helped spark his love of the game, and he was eager to continue to work with developing girls in the program for years to come, be it from the bench or the bleachers.
"If they'll have me back, I'll willingly coach next season," Kumpf said. "If not, I'll coach from the bleachers."
North Clay's quest for a perfect season concludes tonight with a 6 p.m. tip-off against Greencastle. The game is an A/B doubleheader.