2017 Renegade 'Magnificent 7'
Girls Basketball Final Poll
... and a Look Ahead to 2018

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


Will Kankakee Valley's girls basketball team be a 4A participant for the 2018 state girls basketball tournament or will they be 3A, the class the KV boys team plays in? If the Kougars drop to 3A, they are a big threat to win sectional and regional championships. (Photo by Mark Smith)

EAST CHICAGO (03-01-2017) A little disappointing, this 2017 season. I have to admit. I'm sure local teams agree.

Nobody from Northwest Indiana got past the regional except for Marquette, which lost the 1A semistate in double overtime. Nobody from Northwest Indiana got to the Crown Point Semistate.

That's always an empty feeling for fans and teams here. Marquette's disappointment is relative. The Class 1A team lost in the regional semifinals last year and returned all five starters. This winter, they lost in overtime in the semistate. But they did win the regional, the first in school history.

I read a story in the South Bend Tribune this month that said the nightly television news at Channel 24 in Toledo, Ohio and Channel 56 in Northwest Pennsylvania have something in common. They are both being broadcast from the studios of WSBT, Channel 22 in Mishawaka.

The stations are all owned by the same media group (Sinclair) which owns 183 stations in 82 markets and the move was probably made to save money. The news anchors at the Ohio and Pennsylvania small market stations were fired and the same news anchors who read the news at Channel 24, read the news at Channel 56. Local reporters did contribute local features and 'breaking news' but the concept of having local news done by people who live in your town took a major hit. There was no local sports.

Is this the wave of the future? Probably. In NW Indiana, the local news on TV has shut down. The Game of the week has been gone for years. Local cable sports is done out of Chicago, ignoring the Northwest Indiana viewers.

The fact that girls basketball is not on local TV seems to be having an effect. Despite high quality players and good teams, the interest level seems to be sliding. People are simple. If it isn't on TV, it isn't worth seeing. If you can't see it, it doesn't matter.

Dana Evans' entire career at Gary West Side was missed from a live TV standpoint. Kankakee Valley and Lake Central's 60-win runs in three seasons were missed. Marquette, Morgan Township both 20-win teams. They were real. They were not on TV. Not here. In most parts of the state, local games do air. I've said this many times.

After decades of having two games a week on local TV in Northwest Indiana, we are now the 'black hole' of visual coverage. Despite the fact that a weekly high school matchup highlights two communities in a positive light. Something media people say they want. There's nothing. And it's hurting local basketball.

I know I speak on this subject a lot on these pages, but the sport can't prosper without a televised game of the week, in some form. Girls basketball doesn't even have a radio game of the week. And, right now, I don't see any 'over the air' outlet in our area showing an interest in producing high school girls basketball.

One team to watch next year will be Merrillville, largely because I don't know who we'll be watching. After five consecutive sectional championships, three consecutive 20-win seasons (and five in the last six years), I can't tell you the success won't continue. But I can't tell you who makes up that starting lineup next season. The Pirates graduate seven seniors, one of whom was Jasmine Wright (19.1 ppg.), the school's second career leading scorer and another was Kierra Thomspon (16.1 ppg.), Merrillville's all-time leading rebounder. It would be naive to think that Merrillville doesn't have some underclassmen with talent and a desire to carry on. From the outside, it just isn't obvious who they are.

No local teams got to the state finals in 2017. No local teams even reached the Crown Point semistate, the local consolation prize. Let's look at five 'stories' for the 2017-2018 season.

1. (4A) East Chicago (19-5)
2016 (19-6), 2015 (15-10), 2014 (4-16), 2013 (12-11)

EAST CHICAGO: East Chicago did lose the big one, a 48-41 sectional loss to lake Central. They should do better in 2018. The inside-outside combinations EC can field is very impressive. Guard Janane Bishop (24.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.2 steals per game) will lead the Cards and big sisters 6-foot-5 Tai-Yanna (11.8 points, 12.5 rebounds in just 12 games) and 6-foot-3 Tiara Jackson. Junior guard Zariah Frierson (11.7 ppg. 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.8 assists) and Nia Hurt (6.8 ppg.) also will be back. That might not be the starting five, but there's a lot of matchup problems in that group. The Cards shot an unofficial 28% (107 of 380) from three-point range and, when you have the size they have, East Chicago will look to make more of the many open 3s they will get. Teams want EC to shoot the 3-ball. The Cards will make them not want that. East Chicago has to defeat Lake Central. They know it and I'm sure everything they do will be pointed towards that matchup.

2. (1A) (MC) Marquette (21-6)
2016 (24-3), 2015 (9-15), 2014 (4-14), 2013 (2-18)

MICHIGAN CITY: It's been tough for Marquette losing the 1A semistate 69-64 in two overtimes to Union City one year after losing a regional semifinal 44-43 to Argos. But no sympathy is required here. Marquette again returns 90% of the team to take another shot at state glory. The only player graduating is senior Hannah Nolan (4.8 ppg.), the older sister to all-state Twins Sarah Nolan (18.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Emma Nolan (14.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game). Sarah Nolan made 54 of 142 three-point shots (38%) and 76 of 101 (75%) free throws. Little Morgan Crook (9.3 ppg.) was 42 of 107 on three-point shots. The only good thing about Marquette losing at the semistate in 2017 is that, I believe, it prevented them from moving up to Class 2A for the 2018 playoffs. East Chicago and Marquette both return as many quality players as they need and they could be in that semistate at CP.

3. (4A) Lake Central (19-7)
2016 (23-2), 2015 (22-4), 2014 (19-3), 2013 (16-8)

ST. JOHN: Lake Central did as much as they could this past season. The Indians topped East Chicago in sectional play, but lost to Gary West Side. To defeat both those teams in two nights was a lot to ask. LC returns 5-foot-7 Lauren Ladowski (9.8 ppg.), 5-foot-11 Lauren Smolan (6.8 ppg.), who shot 61% (60 of 98) from the floor for the 2017 season and 5-foot-10 Rachael Robards (10.2 ppg.), who shot 51% from the floor for the entire season. LC graduated two valuable senior starters, but even against a top level schedule, I think LC has a chance to equal the 19-7 record next season and they will be one win over East Chicago away from the sectional championship. EC will be in an odd position next season because the team they need to defeat to go deep in the post-season, is a team they already defeated in 2017. The team that eliminated Lake Central probably (you never know who's going to what school in Gary a year in advance) won't be a factor in the 2018 playoffs. You could not rule out Lake Central getting to semistate play.

4. (4A) Kankakee Valley (22-2)
2016 (19-4), 2015 (17-8), 2014 (16-7), 2013 (16-5)

WHEATFIELD: I felt sorry for Kankakee Valley. I have to say it. The Kougars lost the Class 4A Sectional 2 semifinal 62-54 to Merrillville a year after they lost a Class 4A Sectional 2 quarterfinal to Merrillville 62-49 in 2016. The Kougars have been a program-best 41-6 the last two years, but because they were bumped up to Class 4A by enrollment, they had to take on a superior Merrillville squad. Kankakee Valley is not a Class 4A school, by enrollment. They just aren't. The Kougars can't defeat three Class 4A sectional opponents in five nights to win a sectional title most seasons. I do not know exactly why the KV boys team is in the Class 3A playoffs and the girls team is 4A. It's not fair and it might have cost KV a state finals appearance in 2017. I am not sure if KV will drop to 3A in 2018. They should, but I don't know if they will. The Kougars return most of their team including guard Lindsey Stokes (13.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 steals per game), but they graduate all-stater Raegen Walther, the school's all-time leading scorer. Word is the junior varsity was 21-0 this past season and the freshmen team was 14-0, but that won't matter in the 2018 playoffs if KV is in the 4A class. In 3A, KV could reach the semistate at Crown Point, a scenario that would be state finals' lock for that program.

5. (4A) Crown Point (16-9)
2016 (20-6), 2015 (12-11), 2014 (13-8), 2013 (5-16)

CROWN POINT: With so many good seniors graduating throughout NW Indiana, I don't really have a 5th-best team in mind for 2018, so I'll go with Crown Point over Merrillville, Michigan City, with big center Hannah Noverroske (18.6 points, 13.2 rebounds per game) and LaPorte, with top guard Riley Ott (17.2 ppg.). The Lady Bulldogs will be led by senior guard Mya Scheidt (13.7 points, 3.0 steals), who was seventh in the state in three-point baskets. Mya was 69 of 232 (30%) on three-point shots and 44 of 63 (70%) on free throws. Soph guard Caitlin Phillips (7.2 points per game) is an up and coming (38 of 135, 28%) three-point threat. Those percentages aren't really good as is the team 3-shooting rate (145 of 544, 27%) overall, but the college-style three-shooting attack is under construction. If CP can find one or two inside threats (and there are candidates), the 3-ball percentages will rise and CP will be very hard to outscore. The intrigue here is how much Crown Point embraces and compliments the 3-point shooting, spread the floor style. I don't know of any other NW Indiana team with has two underclassmen with 107 3-point shots or 367 attempts. It seems far-fetched for Crown Point to be playing in the 2018 Crown Point Semistate, a situation that would be a celebration. In a Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) where most anyone could win the 2018 title, CP won't be favored. But in 4A Sectional 2, if Merrillville isn't destined to win a sixth consecutive title, Crown Point has a shooter's chance.

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Revised: March 27, 2017 .