It will be impossible in 2014 for the Notre Dame girls basketball team to repeat as Class D state champions.
Section V officials made sure of that.
If the Fighting Irish make it to the post season -- very likely given the fact that all but one top player from last year is returning -- making a deep run in the post season will be difficult.
Again, thanks to Section V officials.
Notre Dame, with only 149 students, has been moved from Class D to Class B2 where eight of the 10 schools in the class have an average of 283 students, and all but Le Roy (283) and Bishop Kearney (216, and last year's Class C state champions) have more than 300 students.
Section V officials moved Notre Dame past Class D1 and three Class C divisions to get the team in with schools nearly twice as big.
"I always thought sports was about the kids, but they're doing what they have to do to make it difficult for the private school and that's just the way it is," Pero said.
Any shot at a State Championship will mean getting past several schools in Class B1 with more than 400 students.
"I'm not crying wolf," Head Coach Dave Pero said. "To me it's not fair, but sometimes life just isn't fair. There's a lot worse things out in life than us going to Class B."
Rather than cry over what he can't change, Pero is doing what good coaches do -- getting his players ready to play, running through offensive and defensive drills, working on conditioning and planning how to use his available resources for the best possible results.
"It is what it is," Pero said. "We're preparing our girls to play and I think they'll handle that, and the chips will fall where they may."
There will be a lot of tools at Pero's disposal: Mel Taylor, the MVP of the state championship game, returns to her play-making guard position; Laurie Call, a Scottish terrier on defense who gets a hold of an opposing player's leg and won't let go; and Burgundy Bartlett, who's quick and strong with three-point range, but is coming off a missed season because of a knee injury.
Then there's Shea Norton, who's grown from last year's 5'10" to 6'1" and added some muscle. The sophomore may be primed for a breakout year. She worked hard on her game over the summer, improving her ball handling and perimeter shooting, making her a threat in the paint and from long range.
"Last year, she was here, but learning," Pero said. "She's improved by leaps and bounds. She's playing the inside, but also making shots outside."
At the post positions, Pero can also look for big contributions from two other tall and strong sophomores, Taylor DiMartino, returning from last year's team, and Becca Krenzer, a transfer from Pavilion. Both are six-footers who can pull down rebounds on both ends of the court.
Also returning are Bailee Welker (who is also made big off season strides, Pero said), Hannah Green, Emily McCracken and Emma Francis, who all made significant contributions during the course of ND's championship run.
"We have 11 players who can contribute, who can come off the bench and I won't feel like we're losing much," Pero said.
That kind of quality player rotation will be important in a season where coaches are expecting refs to call more fouls.
Just like the NCAA, officials have decided the pendulum in basketball has swung too far toward the defense and it's time to let the offense reassert itself. There are no new rules, but rules about hand checking and giving driving shooters space will be more rigorously and consistently enforced.
So far this season in NCAA men's hoops, there have been an average of 10 more fouls called per game. In last Saturday's Niagara and Seton Hall game, there were 72 fouls called and 102 free throws. Men's game scoring has increased to 76 points per team, up from 67.5.
Notre Dame made it through the post season last year in large part because of a never-let-up defensive style that kept opponents off balance and out of sync.
Nobody was more tenacious or aggressive on defense than Call, but after a scrimage yesterday in which the Irish were called for 21 fouls in the first quarter, Pero believes his team learned a valuable lesson, and the lesson wasn't lost on Call.
"She's matured so much and I think her eyes really opened up last night in the second quarter," Pero said. "Even last year through the run, we were worried she was going to get into foul trouble but she changed her game and I think she's mature enough to do that again."
Pero still expects Call to spark the defense.
"If Laurie's on you, you're going to have a lot of problems," Pero said.
Last year Call lead Section V with 120 steals. If she hits that mark again -- and Pero believes she will -- that would put her at 400 career steals, which Pero said would be quite a milestone.
Taylor will also be closing in on a career milestone of 1,000 points scored.
The lone senior to graduate after the state championship was Shea's older sister, Riley Norton. Riley was the team's leading scorer, hitting about 14 points per game, but Pero believes with the improvements in his younger players and the strong rotation he can put on the floor the team can fill the scoring gap.
The Lady Irish will only go as far as the girls are willing to focus and play hard, Pero said, and that's true whether they're in Class D or Class B.
The Genesee Region League -- the majority of ND's regular season opponents -- is comprised mainly of Class C teams. Only Elba -- which won the state championship in 2012 and had a seven-game winning streak against ND snapped in Sectionals last year -- is Class D. The Irish are probably the pre-season favorites to when the GR title.
Which puts them into sectionals, where anything can happen, even when playing bigger schools.
"It's all breaks," Pero said. "When you get into the post season, you've got to catch some breaks and the post season is so far away right now that we want to get through our 18 games and then the post season will be here and we can concentrate on that."
Top photo: Dave Pero.
Asst. Coach Dave Pero Jr.