AKRON – There is only one goal for the Tippecanoe Valley Vikings basketball team as the postseason gets set to begin.
The Vikings were crowned champions at the end of last year’s sectional and are hoping they have enough to be able to duplicate the success this year in the Class 3A Wawasee Sectional.
For many fans in the area, the belief is that this sectional will belong to one of two teams, Valley or No. 5 NorthWood.
Both teams met in last season’s title game and the Vikings posted a 60-51 victory to move on to the Blackford Regional. While it looks inevitable to most fans this year that the one of these two teams will advance, legendary Viking head coach Bill Patrick is not ready to give the trophy to his team or to NorthWood.
“It’s easy to say that NorthWood is the team to beat, and they are, no question about it,” said Patrick, now in his 45th season as a head coach. “They have a lot of good players and play really good basketball, but it’s hard to count anyone out in this sectional.
“There will be other teams in that factor in. We hope to be one of those teams. Any team could make a run, especially a team like Wawasee, who gets to play on their home floor.”
NorthWood enters postseason play sporting an 18-2 mark. The Panthers losses were a 54-52 Northern Lakes Conference decision to Northridge (who is 18-2) and then an 84-80 overtime loss at Class 4-A No. 6 Penn (19-1) last Tuesday.
While Patrick certainly raises a good point, his team is sitting better than most of the field due to the Vikings outstanding play on defense. Defense wins championships and Valley surrenders about 43 points per game, a number that puts the Vikings in the top 15 in the state for defensive averages.
Offensively the Vikings are potent, like last season. But the depth that benefited last year’s team is not a strong suit for the attack of this year’s Valley team.
Tanner Andrews leads the team in scoring, averaging just under 15 points per game, hitting a season-high 25 points against Southwood. Chainey Zolman is the team’s second scoring option and he also hit 25 points in the Southwood game. Zolman was huge in last year’s sectional title game as he went 4-4 from deep and had 18 points in the … championship game win against NorthWood.
Ben Shriver and Robby Groom have also proven to be capable scoring options for the Vikings this season. Gavin Bussard and Alec Craig can also provide Valley with other outlets on the offensive end, though Bussard has been nursing a bad foot according to his coach.
For Valley to bring home its second straight sectional and tenth overall, Patrick says the team just needs to stay focused.
The draw worked against Valley to coast to the final, drawing host Wawasee (4-16) in Wednesday night’s first game, with potentially NorthWood waiting in the semi-finals as the Panthers take on Lakeland in the other half of the mini bracket.
“I don’t feel comfortable playing Wawasee at their place, and certainly am not thinking about NorthWood as a Friday night opponent until we take care of business first,” Patrick said following Valley’s 58-46 win at Wawasee in the regular season finale. “Wawasee will challenge us, and we will have to put together a better game defensively than we did (Friday night).”
The Vikings sit at 16-3 entering sectional play, including a 58-43 loss to NorthWood back on Jan. 3 in a semifinal game of the Winning Edge Holiday Tournament. Valley has won its last six games since dropping a 50-48 final in overtime to John Glenn on Feb. 8.
Patrick is 64-44 in the postseason with 16 sectional and three regional titles in his 44 seasons as a head coach dating back to 1963.