BENTON – There have been recent years where the Class 3-A Sectional 21 girls basketball grouping has been a pick ’em, but the usual characters would wind up playing each other in the final. If there was ever a year that ‘anything goes’, this might be it in the loaded sectional field.
Three of the class’ top 18 team are in the field in No. 3 Fairfield, No. 7 Tippecanoe Valley and No. 18 West Noble are all present. Toss in a 15-win NorthWood team, Wawasee’s 12 wins and Lakeland’s 10, and it becomes the only sectional in the state to have all of its teams in double-digit wins.
Heading into the state tourney, Fairfield’s pairings had the highest win percentage in the state (.696) and was the only 3A bracket that had all six teams with at least 10 wins, giving it the toughest odds to pick a winner. Games start Tuesday at 6 p.m. with Tippecanoe Valley and Lakeland, followed by NorthWood and West Noble. Wawasee drew the first bye and will get the Valley-Lakeland winner in Friday’s first game and Fairfield gets the NorthWood-West Noble victor. The final is set for Saturday night.
Here’s a breakdown of the IFN coverage teams, and how their roadmap looks to get the sectional trophy.
Tippecanoe Valley comes in as the on-paper favorite, having won the past three sectionals. Despite losing the most prolific player in its program history and the lynchpin of the recent Valley success in Anne Secrest, Valley (19-3) didn’t miss much of a beat this year in winning 14 of its first 15 games.
Guard Sophie Bussard has stepped forward as the team’s leader and has been brilliant. Bussard is posting up big-time stats, averaging 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals per night. Valley still likes to shoot the three ball, led by Addy Miller and Emily Peterson combining to hit 78 bombs. Asia O’Connor and Makenzie Woodcox have filled some of the void inside where Secrest vacated, but the machine remains oiled despite two losses in the Three Rivers Conference coming down the stretch to Northfield and Rochester to vacate its TRC title to the Norse.
All of that goes into the rearview, however, for Valley as it’s Lakeland, and Lakeland only on Tuesday.
“One thing you see and it jumps out to you on film is they play extremely hard, and they’re not going to — for the most part — beat themselves,” said Valley head coach Chris Kindig. “You have to take it at them and win the basketball game.
“I think that when you get in a sectional situation, especially in our sectional this year where you’ve got Lakeland — who, yeah, they’ve (won 10 games), but you’ve got two or three ranked teams in there,” continued Kindig. “You can’t afford to show up, maybe like we did in the first half (against Wawasee) and expect to win basketball games in a sectional setting. That’s one of those things where we’re going to have to get off to a good start. Every game is going to be that situation.”
NorthWood has possibly the toughest road to the final, having to play No. 18 West Noble and No. 3 Fairfield to get a chance at possibly the seventh-ranked team in Valley. But don’t sleep on a NorthWood team that has 24 sectional titles to its history, played Valley and Fairfield tough in season matchups, and has a three-headed monster on its frontline in Savannah Feenstra, Maddy Payne and Kate Rulli.
The three are combining for 28.2 points and 18.8 rebounds per night. That doesn’t include the work McKenzie Bergman (9.7 ppg) does on the exterior, including a 21-point effort in a big win over Oregon-Davis last week.
“Our frontline has been a positive for us all year,” said NorthWood head coach Adam Yoder, his team 15-8 overall. “It’s been quite an advantage to use their size against many opponents. We usually have at least two of them on the floor and use all three of them a lot as well. They all have been solid defenders, rebounders and passers in addition to their scoring.
“West Noble has proven themselves over and over every year as a quality program and this year is no different. Our teams both rely heavily on underclasswomen this year, so it will most likely come down to whose senior(s) can lead their teams with the most poise as well as which underclassmen can maintain their composure the best and play efficiently on both ends.”
Wawasee is in a sneaky position that could put the Lady Warriors in a prime position for an upset or two. Despite a double-digit loss at Tippecanoe Valley last week, the Lady Warriors have won four of five games coming into the tournament, including games against quality opponents in Elkhart Memorial and Plymouth. Casey Schroeder and Aubrey Kuhn have given Wawasee two quality scoring options, Schroeder at 12 ppg and Kuhn at 10 ppg.
The Lady Warriors (12-10) are just 1-4 against the sectional, just a 10-point win in November against Lakeland to its credit. But the bye gives Wawasee a shot on a neutral court against Valley, and an upset against the defending sectional champions, or a rematch with Lakeland, that could give Wawasee the momentum it needs for a Saturday night romp.
“The bye was advantageous to us for a couple of reasons,” began Wawasee head coach Matt Carpenter. “First, after our last game on Thursday, we will have played five games in 13 days and it will give us a couple extra days to rest our legs. Second, it means we will ‘only’ have to go through two state-ranked teams instead of three to win this thing. Finally, it will also give us a couple of extra days to fine tune some things in practice.”
Fairfield has used a team concept to get itself to one of its finest regular seasons in program history. At 20-2, Fairfield’s two losses are to Class 4-A power Northridge and West Noble in the Northeast Corner Conference tournament. Fairfield avenged that loss with a 17-point whipping Friday night. Erica Zook is the only Falcon over double figures with 12 points, but Jordan Kintigh, Felicity Bontrager, Katie Lashley and Jenean Schwartz are all posting over eight points per.
West Noble (18-6) runs through the power of Madison Schermerhorn and the finesse of Lauren Burns, the two giving the Chargers 19 points a night.
The Chargers were a loss to Angola away from winning the loaded NECC tournament in mid-January, and have lost just three times since Christmas break, once to Tippecanoe Valley in the Concord tournament championship, to Angola in the NECC and Fairfield Friday night.
Lakeland has a pair of freshman guards in Bailey Hartsough and Keirstin Roose – who are adding up to 25 points per night – that have emerged to help the team resurrect itself.
After just eight wins in its past two seasons, Lakeland (10-12) has won five of six going into the tournament.