St. Thomas More’s girls basketball team capped off a record regular season for the small Raleigh Catholic school. But when asked about the program, head coach Dave Irons goes first to off-the-court focus.
“It’s academics number one, number two, number three kind of thing (at St. Thomas More),” he said. “So athletics is kind of an opportunity to round them out. ... This particular year we had a very good incoming freshman class, and a very good balance of freshmen all the way through, so it’s been a very good season for us – the best the school has ever had.”
St. Thomas More enrolls roughly 200 students. For many, basketball is a new endeavor with both the boys and girls varsity teams including players who have never played the game.
Boys coach Doug Cottle said his team is mostly comprised of soccer players.
“I’ve got maybe two basketball players,” Cottle said. “They all are soccer players. They’re mostly soccer players or Ultimate Frisbee. We’ve got a baseball team starting this year.”
The baseball program will bring the Chancellors’ athletic offerings to seven sports, including boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls track and field, volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee.
Cottle’s boys roster included 16 players this season, a number he felt made it difficult to build team chemistry in a year in which the team joined a larger conference.
“We’ve never had a JV team. I’m pushing to get one now because I need a feeder program of some sort,” Cottle said. “A lot of them don’t know the basic skills of basketball coming from other sports. They’re really good soccer players, but we’re having to teach more than coach most of the time. But they’re getting it, which is the important thing.”
Cottle said he expects the younger players to step up next year after focusing on fundamentals this year. Building skill is something he has grown accustomed to, as Cottle finds it difficult to lure potential student-athletes to the smaller St. Thomas More instead of Cardinal Gibbons, a Catholic high school in Raleigh that boasts several dominant sports programs.
That could be seen as obstacles for the Chancellors, but Irons speaks of it in an almost endearing way. His two children, twins Emily and Joshua, have grown through the St. Thomas More system, and both are captains on their respective basketball teams.
“Playing in this kind of environment, it’s very rewarding and refreshing,” Irons said after the girls team (12-5) lost at Trinity Academy in its regular-season finale. “They’re not only thrilled to be a part of a team, they’re thrilled with the camaraderie.
“The wins and losses are really not (the focus). It’s more about the fellowship and the whole team spirit thing,” he continued. “If you come to one of our home games, we’re just this teeny little school and we go nuts. It’s a lot of fun for them. We’re certainly not going to win state championships at this point, but in our hearts we’ve won everything, and to us that’s really what it’s about.”