Warsaw will not have to wait long at all to begin the quest to reach its goal of a girls basketball sectional championship.
The Class 4-A No. 8 Tigers will meet familiar foe Elkhart Memorial in the opening game of the Concord Sectional Feb. 5.
Warsaw, 18-1 on the season after a 34-30 loss at NorthWood Saturday night, drew the opener as the IHSAA conducted pairings for the 38th annual girls tournament Sunday night in Indianapolis.
The Tigers, who won the Northern Lakes Conference title at 6-1, meets league foe Memorial in the first game of postseason play. Warsaw won 39-32 at Memorial on Jan. 22. The Crimson Chargers have won nine straight sectional championships and beat Warsaw 52-41 in a sectional semifinal game last year.
Warsaw, who is 4-0 versus the sectional field (they did not play Elkhart Central) received a much different draw this year than in the previous four under coach Michelle Harter. The Tigers have always had a first-round bye since Harter took over as head coach in 2008.
“I’m going to look at this as something different that will be good for us,” said Harter during a phone interview Sunday night after seeing the draw. “We’ve had the bye game every year and have not won the sectional. This is a positive. We know we’ll have to come out focused and ready to play. I think it can help us to get some momentum going right away.”
The Tigers, whose last sectional title came in 2004, have a tough road to a championship. Warsaw will have to beat Memorial (13-6), then host Concord (6-14) in the semifinals and then likely a strong Northridge (16-4) team in the title game.
“It’s a very tough draw for us,” admitted Harter. “But, we just have to come out and focus first on Memorial. We were going to have to play them sometime. I think our girls will be ready for the challenge. I also think that Memorial still has a target on them. They’re the ones who have won nine sectionals in a row.”
Harter also believes her veteran team will be relaxed and ready after a disappointing loss at NorthWood Saturday night.
“Our girls were definitely disappointed last night,” said Harter, who described the bus ride home from Nappanee as quiet. “I look for them to come to practice on Monday with a renewed focus and energy.
“People may look at us as the heavy favorite because of our record and what we did in the regular season, but anything can happen in the tournament. We just need to relax and play and not feel like we are expected to win.
“I do look for us to come out in the tournament and play more relaxed with the weight of being undefeated off our shoulders. I do think the girls learned from Saturday night and will turn that loss into a positive. I expect them to.”
Host and No. 4 NorthWood (18-3) meets Wawasee (9-9) in the opener of the Class 3-A sectional in Nappanee Feb. 5. The Panthers, who have won three of the last four sectional titles including last year and are third all-time in state history with 22, beat the Warriors 74-41 Jan. 5 in Syracuse. Tippecanoe Valley (6-12) meets a strong West Noble (13-7) team in the other first-round game at NorthWood.
Whitko, sporting a 6-13 record, drew a bye in the Class 3-A Mississinewa Sectional, which features No. 5 and defending champion Norwell. Triton (15-5) drew the bye in the seven-team field at the Class 1-A Oregon-Davis Sectional and will face either South Central or Culver in a semifinal. The host and No. 2 Bobcats, who are 17-3, have won five of the last six sectional titles.
Lakeland Christian Academy will face Hamilton in a historic game in the opener of the Class 1-A Fort Wayne Canterbury Sectional Feb. 5. The Cougars (4-14) are playing in the state tournament for the first time in school history, one of three schools doing so this year. No. 1 and defending state champion Canterbury, which has won nine straight sectional titles, is the huge favorite to win at home. Canterbury, sitting at 17-3, has won four of the last five state championships in Class 1-A.
Sectional winners advance to four-team regionals on Saturday, Feb. 16. One-game semi states are set for Saturday, Feb. 23 with the State Finals on Saturday, March 2 at the Hulman Center on the Indiana State University campus in Terre Haute.
Area sectional winners would play in regionals at Valparaiso (4-A), Bellmont (3-A) or Caston (1-A).
A record field of 399 teams are entered in the state tournament this year.
Girls Basketball Sectional Pairings