When talking about his team’s 27-victory campaign and the program’s first regional championship in 19 years, Garrett coach Bob Lapadot is quick to give his players credit.
After all, the group with a loaded senior class complemented by junior Bailey Kelham and some promising underclassmen sure did have a lot of talent.
But it was Lapadot’s job to mold that talent into a winner, and achieving the goals the girls set for themselves.
While the Railroaders fell a win short of a state championship appearance, there were highlights aplenty with NECC regular-season and tournament champions, a second sectional in three seasons and the first regional crown for Garrett since 2009 while compiling a 27-2 overall record.
For those achievements, Lapadot has been named Outside the Huddle’s Girls Basketball Coach of the Year for 2021-22.
“It takes a lot to live up to expectations,” said Lapadot. “The girls were able to accomplish a lot of what they themselves said they wanted to accomplish.”
Close postseason wins over Angola, Hamilton Heights and Benton Central highlighted the February run for the Railroaders. The season ended at the hands of South Bend Washington in the Class 3A North Semistate, a squad that went on to win the state championship by routing Silver Creek by 58 points.
For Lapadot, he knew his team was capable of some big things, particularly as the senior group with the likes of Nataley Armstrong, Morgan Ostrowski , Faith Owen and Taylor Gerke grew older and matured.
As coach, Lapadot allowed his squad to choose just how much it wanted to push itself. Did it want to take the easy route during summer shootout events? Or did it want to play the likes of Snider and Penn as much as possible to prepare them for the rigors of the season?
His team chose the challenging course of action. That’s where Lapadot took over.
“One thing I feel like I am good at his preparation,” Lapadot said. “In terms of Xs and Os, there are a whole lot of people better than I am. But I know what players are good at and I feel our team is ready each and every time out.”
Even in the semistate game against Washington, the Railroaders showed they were ready. A close game through the first quarter opened up the rest of the way not because Garrett wasn’t prepared, but rather that Washington was too good in too many facets of the game.
“We enjoyed coming out hot shooting and prepared in games,” Lapadot said. “And that’s probably what I am most proud of is that we prepare the kids and give them information and they are able to process it and use it.”
The season was not without its hurdles. Losing Gerke to a leg injury midway through the season hurt. While Gerke was able to see some action in the playoffs, she never was close to 100 percent. But there was a silver lining. In Gerke’s absence, sophomore Makenna Malcolm saw more playing time, setting her up for a bigger role next season.
While Lapadot and Garrett achieved big things this past season, it is somewhat familiar territory for both. The program has won 13 or more games in 10 of Lapadot’s 11 campaigns at the helm of the Railroaders. He has an overall record of 179-79 with a trio of sectional titles.
“With our leading scorer in Bailey (Kelham) back and Makenna starting the last 15 games, plus a great JV team, we feel we are in good shape,” Lapadot said. “It is a different excitement going into next year with the unknowns, but we had the same feeling four years ago with a bunch of little girls in the Class of 2022 that we threw into the fire and convinced them they could be pretty good.”