NEW ALBANY —
Oftentimes coming back to coach at your alma mater is something that sounds great until you get there. Coaches are welcomed back home. Then comes pressure to win.
Christian Academy’s third-year head coach Steve Kerberg has managed to bring a collection of attributes to his old school and things look brighter than ever for the Warriors basketball program.
CAI is 9-3, currently ranked eighth in Class A and fresh off a 44-41 win at then-No. 2 and defendng state champion Borden.
“I’ve received incredible support from the administration and athletic department,” Kerberg said. “That’s the only way to build a successful program. Our fans and parents have also been great. I have a great coaching staff. We’ve had to change the mentality of our kids who have been used to losing. Some of the guys went through middle school and only won a few games. Hopefully the Borden win lets them know of the great things they are capable of accomplishing.”
Kerberg was an assistant at Jeffersonville for six years before getting the head coaching job at CAI in 2011. Being involved with a successful Red Devils program is one of the things Kerberg has used to turn CAI around.
“It was an honor to coach at Jeff,” Kerberg said. “I had a chance to coach in some really big games. We went to the semistate in 2010 and were 23-2 in 2006. Tim LaGrange was a big mentor of mine. I got a lot from him in the four years coaching with him.”
Despite the success as an assistant at Jeff, Kerberg always kept an eye on CAI and felt that urge to again put on the Warriors blue and gold.
“I played at Graceland in the mid 90s and we had some really good teams,” Kerberg said. CAI was originally Graceland Christian. “Two years after I graduated, we won back-to-back regionals and had a great stretch of basketball, so it was disappointing to see how bad CAI was struggling. I had a desire to come back to my school and wanted to see us be successful.”
CAI only won five games combined in the two years prior to Kerberg’s arrival. The Warriors notched 10 wins in Kerberg’s inaugural year, followed up by an 11-10 mark last year — their first winning campaign since 2008.
The Warriors are on pace to post their first back-to-back winning seasons since the regional championships teams of 1997-98 and 1998-99. With nine different coaches in the next 13 years, stability became an issue for CAI.
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame other coaches [on the losing seasons],” Kerberg said. “The biggest problem was lack of consistency. It’s hard to have a successful program without consistency. Just look at New Albany, Providence and Borden. They have had stability in their programs and that’s a big reason why they’ve been so successful for so long. That’s what we’ve needed here.”
The Warriors seem to be getting a grasp on the often over used but true sports phrase of “learning how to win.” CAI is 5-0 in games decided by single-digits this season.
“Last year beating [Christian Academy of Louisvlle] for the first time ever was really big,” Kerberg said of his team’s four-overtime win over its school system mate, which CAI beat again this season for its first win ever at CAL. “That win definitely got us heading in the right direction. The Borden win [this past Friday night] was another big one for us, but we have two more tough games this weekend. I think Providence has beaten us 14 straight and Paoli 11, so we won’t be letting up in practice this week. We have more work to do.”
Kerberg was quick to point out that success in the state tournament was at the top of the team goals to start the season. Last year’s team won its final six regular-season games but bowed out to Lanesville in the first round of the sectional.
This season’s Warriors are focused on wins in March.
“We haven’t accomplished all of our goals yet,” Kerberg said. “The guys worked so hard in the weight room in the off-season and on their individual skills. We hope that along with our tough schedule will pay off in the end.”
GIRLS’ BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Kaitlynn Henning, Charlestown
The Charlestown junior put up 29 points as the Pirates ended a three-game losing streak with a 61-44 Mid-Southern Conference victory over Salem on Thursday.
BOYS’ BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Leondre McBirth, New Albany
McBirth — one of Southern Indiana’s top players so far in 2013-14 — had a game-high 20 points as the Bulldogs got by Silver Creek 49-46 on Friday in Sellersburg.