SYRACUSE — “Any time you get to play at home, its a good thing.”
Wawasee head coach Phil Mishler could not have said it any better when talking about this year’s sectional tournament being home sweet home for the Warriors. For only the third time in school history Wawasee will host the IHSAA Class 3A Sectional 21 championship.
The season has been a long one for Mishler and company, but perhaps hosting the sectional is the “good thing” Wawasee has been looking for. With the road to the Blackford Regional running through the Hardwood TeePee, the young Warriors will need to grow up fast and settle a few scores along the way if they want to protect their territory.
Wawasee’s season started with high aspirations but has since gone downhill. The team lost both of its senior starters, Jake Thompson to a shoulder injury and Ryndan Aaron for personal reasons, during the course of the season and has just recently started to recover. The lone upperclassmen is junior guard Chase Myers. Outside of him, the Warriors have nine sophomores, which includes scoring leader Alex Clark hitting for roughly 14 points per game and Gage Reinhard, who connected for a career-high 19 points in a win against Central Noble on Feb. 9. Four freshman have also had significant varsity minutes since December.
For such a young team, having the benefit of home court advantage helps more than usual. Mishler offered some perspective on how players have an edge when their school hosts the sectional.
“When you practice in that gym everyday, you obviously grow comfortable in that setting. So, to have the opportunity to play there in sectionals is a big advantage to any team, but especially for our young guys.”
What is another advantage to hosting sectionals? Not having to go back to an opponents gym for postseason play.
Wawasee (5-14) has already traveled to Nappanee to face NorthWood and LaGrange to take on Lakeland this season, and still has to make a cross-county hike to Akron for a date with Tippecanoe Valley ahead of the tourney. In addition to not having to travel, the Warriors will certainly relish the idea of possibly getting another shot at West Noble. The Chargers dropped Wawasee, 44-32, earlier in the season, the school’s first win in Syracuse since 1999. Of course, Wawasee could also end up facing another team that they know all too well.
But the trip to Valley Friday night will be the telling tale as Wawasee drew the Vikings (16-3) in the second game of Tuesday night’s opening round games. Game one Tuesday night has NorthWood (13-6) facing West Noble (15-4) in a very intriguing matchup. The Wawasee-Valley winner will meet Lakeland (6-13) in the second semi; the Wood-Noble winner will get Fairfield (10-10) in the 6 p.m. Friday game. The championship game is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.
NorthWood throttled the Warriors, 83-43, earlier this season in what was perhaps the most forgettable of Wawasee’s losses this year. But the young team now has some experience under its belt and perhaps the change of scenery in a possible rematch with NorthWood, or West Noble which wore down Wawasee on its home court in December, could make a difference.
Mishler weighed in on the topic, stating, “I think any time you get to play a team again at home, it helps you out. Our guys definitely play more relaxed at home.”
But the coach made it clear that it does not matter who his team plays first round.
“We are just going to focus on getting better until sectional comes around. We can’t help who we draw and we need to focus on worrying about us at this point,” stated Mishler.
The Warrior coach has had his fair share of sectional experience and if his past tells fans anything, it’s that Wawasee certainly has a shot at winning this year’s sectional.
The coach has a 2-2 record at home and a 13-9 mark overall in sectional play. Wawasee is also 8-4 under Mishler in IHSAA tournament games against the other Sectional 21 teams. Finally, in Mishler’s 13 season at the helm for Warrior basketball, he has compiled an 85-44 record when his team plays in the comfort of the Hardwood TeePee.
With all the youth on this roster, the future appears to be bright for Wawasee. But after a rough season for this young team, the Warriors will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves ahead of schedule by having the sectional run through its backyard. If Wawasee stays focused and gets the right draw, they might show us all just how sweet home can be.