As the 37th Annual IHSAA Girls Basketball State Tournament gets under way tonight, several young teams take the field in Sectional 19 play at New Prairie, while a pair of surging players take the court in Sectional 35 play at Westview, and a Class A field containing three state-ranked squads will match up in Sectional 51 play at Oregon-Davis.
At 6-14 going into New Prairie Sectional play, Plymouth’s young team has had an up-and-down season. The Lady Pilgrims roster boasts just two seniors and starts a pair of freshmen in point guard Haley Harrell and forward Hunter Stevens, and the team has undergone some expected growing pains.
The good news for the Pilgrims is that this year’s sectional field is full of teams undergoing much the same thing.
Plymouth drew the bye as John Glenn (4-16) takes on tourney favorite South Bend St. Joseph’s (14-6) in the tournament opener tonight at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to play the Pilgrims in the early semifinal Friday at 6 p.m., while defending tourney champ Culver Girls Academy (12-7) faces Jimtown (6-14) Wednesday with the winner advancing to Friday’s late semi against the winner between Mishawaka Marian (11-11) and the host Cougars (9-11).
Plymouth has already faced both Glenn and St. Joe with the Pilgrims coming out on top 36-32 against the Falcons and falling by an equally competitive 28-24 decision at St. Joe.
Like Plymouth, the field is full of teams with overwhelmingly young or inexperienced rosters this year, and from top to bottom it could truly be anyone’s tourney to win.
“St. Joe is the favorite, then CGA. I think it’s fairly even after that,” said Plymouth head coach Dave Cox. “You never know, you go up and play, and you see what happens. We’ve got to take care of the ball and shoot the ball a lot better than we have been.”
“The kids are growing up and doing OK so we might be OK,” he added. “I’m positive about it.”
Meanwhile at the Class 2A Westview tournament, two local players capable of taking a game over will hit the floor in Bremen’s Jenna Pfeiffer and LaVille’s Jesse Feitz.
Bremen (12-8) take on host Westview (10-10) at 7:30 p.m. tonight following the opener between Fremont (12-9) and Central Noble (0-20), with the winner of the Lions-Warriors contest advancing to play Prairie Heights (13-7) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, following the Lancers’ contest against the winner of the Fremont-Central Noble game at 6 p.m.
Bremen enters the tournament on a 10-2 stretch, a run that has been in many ways commensurate with the play of senior forward Pfeiffer. The 5-10 forward was named the IBCA/ Pacers-Fever Player of the Week Monday after averaging 29.5 points and nine rebounds in a pair of wins over Wawasee and Jimtown. In fact, Pfeiffer has put up more than 20 points the past three games and, prior to a Bi-County semifinal loss to eventual tourney champ Oregon-Davis, she’d put up 19 in two straight games.
Feitz is averaging 13 points a game with more than 20 points in two of the Lancers’ last four contests — and 16 in another — as she’s recovered from an ankle injury. The 6-1 senior put up 22 despite sitting out long stretches in foul trouble in a regular-season closing loss to Triton Friday, and she got a ringing endorsement from Trojans head coach Adam Heckaman.
“She’s big. She’s very valuable to them. With her playing the way she is, I wouldn’t want to play them in sectional,” he said. “They’re playing well; they’re getting done what they need to get done for the most part. If they tighten up those turnovers and continue to get the ball to her, that’s a team I wouldn’t want to see again.”
Indeed, turnovers have been an Achilles Heel for LaVille this season, and head coach Kevin McCullough echoed a similar sentiment.
“Any team we play from here on out, any time we can hold turnovers down we’re going to have a chance to win. Against any team in Class 2A,” he said.
Three ranked or recently-ranked teams enter the field at OD, meanwhile, as former No. 10 Argos (12-8) takes on South Central (8-12) tonight at 6:30 p.m. with the winner moving on to face No. 7 Triton (15-5) in the early semifinal Friday at 6:30 p.m. The No. 4-rated host Lady Cats (17-4) look for a third win this season over Culver (9-12) — which unseated OD as reigning sectional champ last year — at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a quarterfinal between M.C. Marquette (1-18) and Westville (5-15) at 8 p.m., with Wednesday’s winner’s advancing to Friday’s late semifinal at 8 p.m.
Argos only recently slipped from the polls after a loss to Bethany Christian last Thursday, but head coach Nick Medich expects a competitive tournament nonetheless.
“We’re not playing well. We just want the girls to get it together here for the start of the sectional. We told them it’s the second season,” he said.
“I think it’s a very competitive field. Three of the teams have been ranked top 10 throughout the year. It’s going to be a dog fight.”
While Argos tries to recover from a tough season-ending stretch that’s included four losses in its last five games, Triton enters the tourney on a high note with five straight wins and a share of the Northern State Conference crown.
“We started off the season great, we hit a little rough patch in the middle there, but then we got going there in our Bi-County consolation and got on the right track and had some big wins in there against Whitko and Manchester and some other conference teams. To be able to finish it off tonight just builds a lot of confidence going in,” said Heckaman.