Bloomington North coach provides his perspective

Speer’s Cougars enter Semistate on a 17-game win streak


Ashlynn Bakemeyer

At the conclusion of the team’s 72-57 win over Ben Davis, Tayshawn Comer and Jaron Tibbs celebrate the Regional championship.

The men’s basketball team will advance to Semistate on March 19, when they will face Bloomington North at the historic Hatchet House in Washington at 3 p.m.

The team is coming off two Regional victories against Terre Haute North and Ben Davis on March 12 and enters the game on a seven-game winning streak.

As for Bloomington North, the Cougars are enjoying one of the more successful seasons in recent school history. They hold a record of 24-3 going into the game and have won 17 straight.

They are led by senior Nick Klaiber, a 6-foot, 1-inch point guard averaging 18.4 points per game, as well as junior Jaqualon “J.Q.” Roberts, a 6-foot, 7-inch forward averaging 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Roberts holds multiple Division I offers to play in college, including from Iowa and Indiana. 

This will be somewhat of a new experience for both teams, as no player on either team’s roster has ever reached a Semistate game. The Irish will be playing in their first Semistate in nine years, while Bloomington North will compete in their first Semistate since 2014, when they lost to an Arsenal Tech team led by current Irish Head Coach Mr. Jason Delaney. 

Although none of the players have experienced playing this far into the tournament, the coaches of both teams have been here before.

Delaney coached Arsenal Tech to a State championship in that 2014 season, and Bloomington North Head Coach Mr. Jason Speer has coached this game as well. Speer said in an interview via Zoom, “In the early 2000s I was an assistant coach at Bloomington North when we did make it to the Semistate round. I believe it was in 2003.” The Cougars have not played in a State title since winning it all in 1997.

Although this team, of all the teams Speer has coached, has advanced the furthest in the tournament, he does not believe that their success is solely due to talent. “(The team’s) not necessarily the most talented. But it does seem to be a group that has what I would call a clique. They understand each other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses really well.”

He said he believes this understanding is what has taken the team this far. Speer alluded to the leadership of his seniors, including Klaiber along with guards Marco Fitch and Nate Hoffman, as contributing to the team’s success.

But Bloomington North, coming from Conference Indiana, may not have faced teams as talented as the Irish this year, though the two teams share a few common opponents in Franklin Central, Floyd Central and Terre Haute North. Speer believes this game will be his team’s toughest test thus far. He said, “Obviously with the talent of Cathedral, both individually and collectively, they’re a very good team, very well coached. So I would say probably, with what’s at stake and the talent level, probably the best team for us to play.” 

Although the Irish may have an advantage in terms of individual talent, with seniors Tayshaun Comer and Jaxson Edwards heading off to play at the Division I level and junior Xavier Booker looking to do so in two years, the Cougars have a considerable amount of individual talent themselves. Speer said, “We feel like we’ve got a Division I level point guard — he’s not signed yet — in Nick Klaiber. We feel like he’s closer than really anyone Cathedral will see.” 

Yet another factor that could play into the outcome of the game is that Bloomington North is on spring break this week. Speer and the rest of his staff are trying not to let the distractions of being off school affect the players. He said, “We’re trying to take it as normal as possible. But would it be nice to be in school where you have that routine where everybody’s getting up, doing their class work, going to practice, yes. But we’ve got a very mature group. I think that they’re taking it very serious.”

Both teams are doing all that they can to prepare for what will be their biggest game of the season. But, as Speer said, no slight advantage talent wise will matter once the teams step onto the court at the Hatchet House. He said, “In one game, in Washington, Indiana, for 32 minutes, you never know.”