DUNLAP – Coach Lenny Krebs said three months ago that his first Warsaw girls basketball team would be a much better one come sectional time.
It’s proven to be an accurate prediction by the astute Krebs.
Now comes the true test of just how much better the Tigers are.
Warsaw opens postseason play Wednesday night versus the hosts in the Class 4-A Concord Sectional. The Tigers beat Concord 46-29 in the Tiger Den on Jan. 20.
Krebs knows that the seven-team sectional, which features a familiar field with six teams from the Northern Lakes Conference and also six squads with a .500 record or better, will be a tough row to hoe.
“You look at the face that we have six NLC teams in this sectional, along with Elkhart Central, and there is no one team who is an easy game,” said Krebs, who spent the previous 14 season at Goshen before taking over at WCHS. “It will take your best game to beat any team in our sectional.”
Warsaw, sporting a 14-8 mark, will face a vastly-improved Concord team. The Minutemen are 10-12 under second-year coach Cassie Cepeda after finishing 4-19 a year ago. The 10 wins are the first time Concord has notched double-digit victories since going 10-12 during the 2009-10 campaign.
“Concord is not going to be an easy game for us,” noted the personable and classy Krebs. “We just played them recently and they will make some adjustments and come ready to play us again. It will make a difference that we have to go to their gym and play as well. We are going to have to make sure we play our best basketball right from the tip on Wednesday. I have so much respect for coach Cepeda and the job she has done. They are a well-coached team and they will be ready.”
Warsaw, which has beaten Concord 41 straight times, trailed 17-16 at halftime of their first meeting in the Tiger Den on Senior Night. The hosts then outscored the Minutemen 30-12 in the second half for the victory. Maddie Ryman led the Tigers with 11 points, while Kaylee Patton and Brielle Harrison each had seven and Emma Bohnenkamper and Kacy Bragg five apiece.
Warsaw is 3-2 on the season versus the sectional field. The Tigers have losses to No. 13 Northridge (49-33) and Goshen (39-26) and wins over Concord, Elkhart Memorial (57-35) and Plymouth (68-60 in triple overtime). The winner of the Warsaw-Concord matchup faces the Goshen-Memorial winner in the second semifinal contest Friday at aproximately 7:30 p.m. Goshen is 12-10, while Memorial sits at 12-9.
“I think that we continue to get better as the season wears on,” Krebs remarked. “With the exception of a hiccup at Goshen where we didn’t play our best basketball, we have continued to improve. Defensively, I’m pleased with where we are. We have also become more comfortable on the offensive end. I said at the beginning of the year that we would be a much better team at the end of January that we were in October and I feel that is true. We are playing our best basketball right now. If that is good enough to win a sectional remains to be seen.”
Warsaw is led by junior guard Maddie Ryman. The 5-6 backcourt ace leads a balanced offense at 9.8 points-per-game. She has a team-high 37 treys and is shooting 77 percent from the free throw line. Junior Kacy Bragg, a 5-9 blue-collar forward, is averaging 8.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and shooting 54 percent from the field. Sophomore Kaylee Patton averages 6.9 ppg. with 23 triples and Emma Bohnenkamper, one of three seniors, is at 6.4. Sophomore forward Brielle Harrison averages five points and a team-high 5.4 rebounds and junior guard Halie Shipp 4.9 ppg. with 22 treys.
The Tigers are averaging 44 points-per-contest and allowing 38 per game. Concord averages 51 points and gives up 46.
The sectional opens Tuesday night with Plymouth (11-11) facing another very improved team in Elkhart Central (14-8) at 6 p.m. The winner of that game then meets defending champion and No. 13 Northridge (21-3) in the first semifinal Friday at 6 p.m. The Raiders, who have won 10 in a row, are 6-0 versus the sectional field. Northridge, which lost in the semistate a year ago, is led by the outstanding duo of senior guard Brooke McKinley and junior forward Morgan Litwiller. McKinley is the program’s all-time leading scorer, has signed to play at Grand Valley State University and went over 1,000 points earlier this season, while Litwiller had committed to play at Eastern Illinois.
“Northridge is the clear cut favorite.” commented Krebs. “All the pressure is on them. Everyone else has the luxury of playing them with a nothing to lose attitude and that can make many teams dangerous. Which teams put themselves in position to play Northridge is what we are all fighting for. The key will be not to overlook anyone and prepare for each and every opponent as if it the only game you will play.”
Krebs finds it easy to pinpoint the biggest key to sectional success for his team.
“We have to be consistent for 32 minutes,” said the Warsaw boss. “We have had some great stretches of basketball this year. The key is to make sure we put together a complete game on both ends of the floor. We cannot allow a team to go on a 10-0 type run and then try to fight our way out of a hole.
“I’m so proud of this group of girls and how hard they have worked to put themselves in a position to compete for a sectional championship. I believe in these young ladies and have no doubt they are going to be ready to compete. They are a competitive group and they have some things they feel they need to prove. I’m anxious to see them perform.”
The sectional final at Concord is scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m. The winner advances to the LaPorte Regional on Feb. 10 to face the Penn Sectional champion in a semifinal game.