WARSAW – The Warsaw girls basketball team is proof positive of the old adage that a team is truly only as good as its seniors.
The diverse group of five players share a common thread that has the Tigers back on the map as a statewide power.
“It’s an unselfish group,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter of a key quality of her outstanding senior class. “They truly care about everyone on the team. The nice thing is that they are so close. They have bonded together so well.”
“These girls have set goals and then worked so hard to achieve them. They have made sacrifices so that the team succeeds. They don’t care who scores the points or gets the credit.
“The most exciting thing for me is to see the excitement of the girls when we won the sectional.”
Warsaw, 22-1 and ranked No. 8 in the final Class 4-A poll, plays Penn Saturday in the second semifinal contest of the Valparaiso Regional at approximately 12:30 p.m. ET. No. 5 Merrillville (22-1) clashes with Lake Central (16-7) in the 10:30 a.m. ET opener. The regional title game is at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday night with the winner advancing to a one-game semi state Feb. 23.
It’s the first regional trip for the tradition-rich program since 2004 when Warsaw finished as state-runner led by Miss Basketball Jaclyn Leininger.
The senior class includes a pair of players in Jennifer Walker-Crawford and Lindsay Baker who should receive plenty of consideration for selection as Indiana All-Stars. Walker-Crawford, a smooth 6-1 inside/outside threat, has had a breakout season averaging a team-high 14 points-per-game and almost six rebounds per contest. Baker, a long range shooting specialist at guard, is averaging 12.5 ppg. and has hit 50 treys (tied for the third most in program history for a single season) while leading the team in assists and steals. Baker is bound for the University of Toledo.
“I think the biggest thing is that we communicate so well with each other,” said Walker-Crawford, who will play at the University of Kentucky Wesleyan. “We’re cohesive and we talk to each other and that makes for a better family.
“All of us have the drive to get better. For me this year, I’ve matured and I’m more confident. A lot of factors have went into my success this year, including that I have a lot of supportive people around me like family, coaches and teammates. I also spent all summer in the gym.”
Melanie Holladay, a tough as nails 5-9 guard, is the third senior starter for the Tigers. Holladay, who best could be described as a human floor burn for the amount of time she spends on the hardwood, averages 5.5 points and an impressive four rebounds per game and s second on the team with 45 steals.
The final two seniors on a team that has posted the ninth 20-win season in program history are Sarah Ray and Gabby Monroy. Ray is a backup point guard, who had a stellar cross country season in the fall, while Monroy is a 5-6 post player who is best known as a Tiger fan favorite on the court and an outstanding soccer player.
The Tigers, who finished 16-5 last season, have quite the list of accomplishments this campaign. The team won its own Lady Tiger Classic for the first time since the 2003-04 season, went 6-1 to win the Northern Lakes Conference championship for the first time since 2010 and earned the first sectional trophy in nine years.
Harter, a former longtime assistant in the Warsaw program who played on the 1985 Wawasee High School squad that was state runner-up, admits that her seniors each have their own unique personality.
“Lindsay is goofy, but very intense on the court,” said Harter. “She has a good balance because she likes to laugh and have fun. Jen is a thinker and very focused. Mel is one tough girl. She’s not going to back down from anything. Sarah is quiet and Gabby is lighthearted and our comedian. She keeps everyone on their toes with what will she say next.
“The thing with their personalities is that they enjoy each other and they are fun to be around.”