GOSHEN – Motivation should not be a factor for the Warsaw girls basketball team in sectional play.
The Tigers, who face a daunting draw in the loaded Class 4-A field at Goshen, should have plenty of purpose to fuel the fire.
Warsaw faces familiar foe Elkhart Memorial in an opening-round game Wednesday in the seven-team tournament. The Tigers lost a 35-31 conference game at Memorial on Jan. 11. If the Tigers get past the Crimson Chargers, they will likely meet up with Northridge in a semifinal contest. Warsaw dropped a 47-43 league tussle at Northridge on Jan. 7. Memorial sits at 13-9, while the Raiders have won 11 in a row and are 23-1.
“There’s nothing that I really need to do or say to motivate our girls,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter. “They know. We felt like we did not play our best basketball in the loss at Memorial. There’s a revenge factor for this game, but it’s not something I need to bring up with our girls.”
Warsaw takes a glittering 19-3 mark into one of the state’s top sectionals. The Tigers won their final four games after losing back-to-back league games at Northridge and at Memorial.
Harter knows how tough a draw her team has, but is confident with a roster featuring six seniors with tons of experience.
“With our senior leadership, this is the year to have a tough draw like we do,” Harter remarked. “This is one of the best sectionals in the state and one of the toughest ones that we have played in in a long time. If you win this sectional, you definitely will have earned it.”
“We know that we definitely have to come out and play well and that starts Wednesday night against Memorial. We have to be focused and play our best basketball for 32 minutes each game.”
Warsaw would likely run smack into Penn again in the sectional final if they get past Memorial and then in all likelihood Northridge. The Tigers topped the Kingsmen by a 40-33 final back on Nov. 22 at Penn.
The Tigers, who lost in the sectional final a year ago to Penn, are led by Dayton Groninger. The star senior guard, who has signed with Indiana Wesleyan University, averages a team-high 16.5 points-per-game and 8.7 rebounds-per-contest. Groninger, who can score inside and outside, has 978 career points to rank sixth all-time in program history.
Warsaw also counts heavily on its senior quartet of Madi Graham, Page Desenberg, Kenzie Welk and Mariah Rivera. Graham, a hard-nosed competitor and a threat with the 3-ball, averages 11 ppg. The hard-working Desenberg is at nearly six points-per-game, Welk averages 4.2 ppg and Rivera is at 3.2 ppg and 1.6 apg. Sophomore Kacy Bragg averages 4.6 ppg for the Tigers. Rivera did not play in the regular-season finale at NorthWood last Thursday night due to a thug injury.
Warsaw, which won the Goshen Sectional two years ago, has depended on its defense all season long. The Tigers are allowing just 37.5 points-per-game. The Raiders are right behind at 37.9 allowed per game and Penn gives up just 38.1 per contest.
“We have to come out and do the little things consistently in the sectional,” said Harter. “The little details will be huge in every game we play. Every possession will be important. We have to take care of the ball, finish shots and rebound.”
The sectional opens Tuesday night with one game as Penn faces host Goshen (8-14) at 7 p.m. The youthful Kingsmen, who graduated seven seniors from last year’s state championship team, are 18-4. Penn has regrouped since losing junior standout Tia Chambers to an injury during their 50-44 win at Northridge back on Dec. 13. Penn did not play Goshen during the regular season.
Penn coach Kristi Ulrich has done an amazing job with her program. The Kingsmen are an eye-popping 176-25 in eight seasons under Ulrich’s guidance with six straight sectional championships and state finals appearances in three of the last six years.
“There is no question that this is one of the toughest sectionals in the state,” said Ulrich, who played at Mishawaka High School and Bethel College. “Teams are always prepared to play hard and are well coached. At this point in the season, the draw matters to an extent, but everyone in the entire state is 0-0. The sectional is an entirely different beast than the regular season. You bring it or you go home. The make-up and identity of our team has changed a number of times throughout the season. Our young group has really surprised a lot of people, especially those that counted us out before the season even started.”
The first-round continues Wednesday as Northridge meets Concord (4-18) at 6 p.m. and Warsaw then plays Memorial. Northridge beat Concord 64-16 during the regular season.
A dangerous Elkhart Central team received the bye. The Blue Blazers, under coach Will Coatie, will face the Penn-Goshen winner in the first semifinal on Friday night at 6 p.m. Central has won a program-high 12 games this season. The second semifinal Friday evening will feature the Warsaw-Memorial winner versus the Northridge-Concord winner.
The Raiders are ranked No. 7 in the Class 4-A poll by the ICGSA with Penn at No. 10 and Warsaw receiving votes. In the IBCA poll, Northridge is No. 6, Penn No. 16 and Warsaw No. 17 with Central receiving votes.
Some of the top players in the sectional to watch include Lindsy Kline, the lone senior for Penn. Kline averages 12.8 points and almost six rebounds per game. Other key performers include Penn junior Sara Doi (12.4), junior Brooke McKinley (14.6), senior Marci Miller (10.5), senior Kelsey Brickner (9.8) and sophomore Morgan Litwiller (8.9) of Northridge, juniors Sierra Peete (11.4), Cydney Lapczynski (10.9) and Kambria Dale (7.1) of Memorial and sophomore Trinitee Harris (12.5) and juniors Mady Miller (7.6) and Krisen Hunt (7.4) of Central.
The sectional finale at Goshen is set for Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The Goshen Sectional champion advances to the LaPorte Regional on Feb. 11 to face the winner of the Lowell Sectional in the first semifinal matchup. The other game will pit the winner of the Chesterton Sectional against the winner of the LaPorte Sectional.