LIGONIER – Looking up and down the matchups from this season in the West Noble Girls Basketball Sectional, parity would be a good word to describe the annual lumping of programs. Five of the six teams in the sectional have at least 10 wins, and all of those teams have at least two wins within the sectional matchups during the regular season.
The Class 3-A sectional at West Noble has an interesting set of matchups. On the north side of the six-team bracket, all three of the Northeast Corner Conference schools will duke it out while the defending sectional champion, Tippecanoe Valley (20-4), will at least have the luxury of not facing both Wawasee (10-12) and NorthWood (15-9) as those two will square off Tuesday in the first night of action.
The Wawasee-NorthWood game seemed like an unwritten rule for a decade as the two played each other nine of 10 years. Wawasee and NorthWood have not played each other in the sectional the past two years, and neither has won the title as Tippecanoe Valley has been in the championship photo after beating Whitko in 2015 and Fairfield in 2016. NorthWood and Wawasee claimed the previous eight titles before Valley’s recent run.
The 2017 version of the rivalry had Wawasee upset NorthWood 52-46 in early January, the first Warrior win over the Black Swish since the 2011 sectional championship, a streak of seven games. NorthWood, on the other hand, beat Tippecanoe Valley at Valley, 50-41, the only team from the state of Indiana to defeat the Lady Vikes in their building. Valley’s other home loss came to highly regarded Appleton North (Wisc.) in its home tournament in November. Valley, in turn, crushed Wawasee 48-21 last week at the Hardwood Teepee and closed out a third straight undefeated Three Rivers Conference season Thursday after pounding Manchester.
“I’m not sure how to handle having the bye because I’ve never had it before,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Chris Kindig. “But I like it in that it gives you a few more days to prepare and it’s one less game that you have to play.
“We know that whoever we have to play (Wawasee or NorthWood) that they are both quality teams. We also know that there are two quality teams in the other side of the bracket with West Noble and Fairfield. There are no gimmes in
Youngstown State University recruit Anne Secrest leads the Vikings, coming into tournament play averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game along with over two steals and a block per night. Sharpshooters Meredith Brouyette and Addy Miller have combined for 83 three-pointers made and Sophie Bussard is a budding point guard, who chips in eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals a night.
Added Wawasee head coach Matt Carpenter, “We have a tough draw, but there are no easy draws in our sectional. On any given night we are capable of beating anyone.
“Beating NorthWood in the first game gives my girls confidence that they can beat them. But we we will have to play better than we did in that first game. We’re going to have to have a laser focus and play our best 32 minutes of the season.”
Wawasee is led by forward Aubrey Schmeltz (9.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and guards Hannah Haines (8.2 ppg) and Aubrey Kuhn (6.6 ppg, 2.5 apg).
NorthWood is paced by feisty guard Taitlyn Trenshaw (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.6 apg) and forward Savannah Feenstra (9.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg).
West Noble is very familiar with its route to a championship. After crushing Fairfield Friday night 59-42, the Chargers sit at 16-8 overall and have a win over Fairfield and two over Lakeland, which the Chargers face in game one Tuesday night. West Noble is seeking its first sectional title since 1988, the only trophy in the case in Ligonier.
Kaylie Warble is leading the Chargers with a double-double per night at 14.7 points and 12.1 rebounds. Lauren Burns at 9.5 ppg and Madison Schermerhorn at 8.8 ppg give West Noble three solid scorers.
The Falcons (12-9) get the other bye, seeking its first title since 2011 when it was in Class 2-A if it can get two wins in Ligonier. Alexis Thaxton leads the Falcons in scoring at 8.1 ppg, but five players are hovering in the sevens in Erica Zook, Jordan Kintigh, Felicity Bontrager, Jenean Schwartz and Katie Lashely.
Lakeland (6-16) are led by Jaden Conard, who scores 10 points per night.
“I think that it’s good to play someone who we are familiar with (Wawasee) to open sectional play,” stated NorthWood head coach Adam Yoder. “I’m not using this as a revenge game. I just want us to come out and play better than we did the first time against them. If we play four quarters this time, I think that we will be fine.
“I think that our kids have shown a lot of character since we lost Riley Hershberger (to a knee injury in late December). It says a lot about the senior leadership we have. I feel like we are playing some of our best
Columbia City will host the regional on Feb. 11, where the West Noble champion will meet the Fort Wayne Concordia winner in game two of the morning session. Tipton and Norwell sectional winners meet in game one. Favorites, per Sagarin, to make the regional include defending state champion Heritage Christian from Tipton, Norwell in its own sectional and Concordia in its own sectional.