April 14, 2024 // Diocese

Huskies Find Success Playing for God, One Another

When Saint Joseph High School boys’ basketball Head Coach Eric Gaff first met with his team last fall, he tabbed 1 Peter 4:10 as the team Bible verse for the season: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”

Photos provided by Saint Joseph High School
The Saint Joe boys basketball team poses after falling to Scottsburg in the 3A State Championship Game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday, March 30.

“We told the guys, ‘You’ve got to memorize this,’” recalled Gaff, who recently completed his third season as head coach. “We would ask guys to say it during practice, and if they didn’t remember it, we would run. … It was cool to see them embody that and share their gifts with each other. You started to see guys doing it more – on the court but off the court even more.”

Once this unselfish approach took hold, it transformed Gaff’s squad into a contender and led to the program’s first-ever state championship game appearance. Despite a 67-57 defeat to Scottsburg in the Class 3A State Championship on Saturday, March 30, the Saint Joe players walked away from Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis with lasting memories and brothers for a lifetime.

Saint Joseph High School senior Jerry Barca was named the Arther L. Trester Mental Attitude Award Winner following the game.

“It’s definitely a big accomplishment making it to state,” junior Chase Konieczny told Today’s Catholic. “Semistate and state especially, I’ll never forget – they were great environments. It’s a crazy experience, something you’ve been thinking about your whole life, just kind of surreal.”

However, the commitment to playing for one another didn’t happen overnight. After an early January loss to Penn, Saint Joe was just 6-7 and in danger of squandering its talented roster.

“Against Penn, we had a 15-point lead at halftime and then threw the game away,” Konieczny said. “The day after the Penn game, we had a meeting with all the team captains and coaches to talk about what went wrong. After that, we were a whole different team.”

“We were playing really selfish to start the year,” senior Jerry Barca explained. “When people realized the path to winning is to play selflessly, we saw how good we could be. There’s a general willingness to play for one another after losing a tough game that we should have won.”

Saint Joe finished the regular season on a 9-2 tear, winning six of those contests by at least 30 points. The week before facing rival Marian to open sectional play, Saint Joe players received extra motivation to play for one another, as the school announced its new nickname – the Huskies – on February 27.

“It galvanized the guys,” said Gaff, noting how quickly the entire school and community embraced its new nickname. “The kids got around it; the guys got ahold of it. We used it to preach togetherness, how we have to be one unit – being Huskies, you’ve got to be part of a pack.”

That pack mentality helped the Huskies avenge a regular season loss to Marian and knock off the ninth-ranked Knights by 17 points. Saint Joe cruised to sectional and regional titles before a pair of contrasting victories at semistate: 88-80 against Peru and 44-41 vs. Delta in triple overtime. That set up a meeting with the fourth-ranked Scottsburg Warriors for the state title and prompted Gaff to once again pull inspiration from Scripture – this time, Proverbs 17:17, which reads, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

“Once they became brothers, they went through adversity, and a lot of guys sacrificed minutes or shots to make us as good as we could be,” said Gaff, recalling his pregame talk with his team. “They were more than brothers, and it’s special when guys can do that.”

But even brothers are not immune to jitters when playing on the biggest stage, and the Huskies (20-10) yielded the game’s first seven points to the Warriors (25-5) after several turnovers. That’s when Barca – a senior averaging just 2.3 points per game – stepped up in a big way, connecting on a pair of early three-pointers to settle his team down.

“That’s kind of been my role all season,” Barca said of setting the tone. “My job, on our scouting report, is to control the pace and control the flow of the game. We had a couple turnovers early, but when my teammates saw me hitting shots, it was a reminder that we needed to be locked in.”

“I knew he would bring his best effort, because he always does – that’s the kind of guy he is,” Gaff said of Barca. “It’s not about the stats on paper, because he puts as much time in as anyone else; he just plays second fiddle to Chase [Konieczny] and Jayce [Lee]. He really got us back in the game. He hit a couple threes and made some big passes. I knew what he was capable of doing, he just wasn’t required to do it up to that point. He definitely saved his best for our last game.”

Behind a 17-5 run, the Huskies claimed a one-point advantage just before halftime. In a game with eight lead changes and five ties, it was Saint Joe leading 50-49 entering the fourth quarter. However, Scottsburg’s zone defense, which forced Saint Joe into 16 turnovers, wore down the Huskies and prevented them from getting their transition game going. Senior Jayce Lee’s jumper with 2:46 to go pulled the Huskies within a point at 58-57, but the Warriors would score the final nine points of the game to pull away.

Konieczny led the Huskies with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, while Barca added 12 points. Lee, who was limited by foul trouble, scored 11 points, with freshman Elijah King and sophomore Braylen White contributing nine and eight points, respectively. Konieczny was quick to address his teammates after the game.

“I definitely thanked them; we’re going to be brothers for life,” Konieczny said of the graduating seniors. “I also talked to the younger guys. I told them that we have a really bright future – we’re young and only graduating two [starters]. If we work hard in the offseason, we can be right here next year.”

Moments after the final buzzer, Barca was announced as the winner of the Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award, an annual honor bestowed on a senior in each class who has “demonstrated excellence in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership, and athletic ability.” Barca, who plans to study neuroscience at Notre Dame, is the Class of 2024 salutatorian and Saint Joe Student Body President, among other numerous distinctions.


“It was incredible,” Barca said of receiving the award. “I’m not originally from Indiana, so I didn’t know what a big deal it was. After the fact, my dad and my coach relayed all sorts of messages to me congratulating me. It was a little harder to look back on five minutes after the loss, but I am extremely grateful. It just shows that all the little things I do behind the scenes were paying off.”

Indeed, the little things paid off all season long for the Huskies, especially when it came to growing together in their faith. While every practice began and ended in prayer, Gaff admitted that sometimes he got so caught up in basketball that his players had to remind him.

“They were making sure our Catholic identity didn’t slip out of focus,” said Gaff. “That’s one of the special things about Saint Joe and our diocese as a whole: We’re here to build men to be great leaders, to build for the future, and to drive people toward Christ.”

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