2017 Renegade 'Magnificent 7'
Girls Basketball Week-10 Poll

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


East Chicago may not have the best record staring the new year but few would argue that they have the most talented staring five. "Cardinal Nation' is hoping for a long post-season run. (Photo by Mark Smith)

EAST CHICAGO (01-05-2017) If a dominant team emerged before the first of the year in Northwest Indiana girls basketball, I missed it.

I don't know if it's more watchable or interesting to have a greater player in our area or a great team.
Northwest Indiana certainly has the great player, but I don't have Gary West Side (11-3) in the Top-7 even with all-state 5-foot-6 senior Dana Evans averaging 36.6 points a game. Too many freshmen and too few other scoring options. But West Side will be at the 4A Sectional 1 playoffs with Lake Central and East Chicago, making that a must-see event.

There's a half dozen winning teams that are not in this poll. I'm not sure about Lighthouse (11-3) either. Quality team with experience, but they play a lot of smaller schools and I'm dealing with the top seven here. I don't have Kankakee Valley (13-1) here yet for the same reason. The Kougars seem very good, but there's a lot of small schools on their schedule, too.

I wish KV was still 3A because this team would be a regional contender in that bracket. In 4A Sectional 2, I don't know.
The girls basketball season is virtually over by New Years' Day. The playoffs begin in five weeks and the 'yellow brick road' for Northwest Indiana teams is still there.

Anybody who reaches the Semistate from our area will almost certainly play in the big gym at Crown Point. When Merrillville reached the Semistate three years ago to play Homestead, the Pirate crowd made it a major event. Lake Central and Crown Point have never reached the Crown Point Semistate.

3A power Benton Central was 25-1 two years ago and 27-3 last year and they lost in the regional both years, one week before they most likely would have brought a giant crowd down US 41 to Crown Point.

What has yet to happen in the years that CP has hosted the Semistate is that TWO local teams with large followings reach the third week of the playoffs. With Kankakee Valley (13-1) in the 4A group with EC, LC, CP and all the other big schools, Benton Central (12-4) winning again in 3A, North Judson (11-2) rolling in 2A and Marquette top-ranked in 1A, that possibility is there this winter.

I hope it's becoming a local tradition that all girls basketball teams and players make it a point to take the short trip to Crown Point to see the Semistate whether they're in it or not. The boys players and coaches surely wish the Semistate was in Lake County. The date of the girls basketball Semistate is February 18.

Seven of the eight teams in the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) are over .500 while only one of seven teams in the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) has won more than they have lost.

Let's see who might be playing in Crown Point on the third Saturday in February.

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

EAST CHICAGO: The Cardinals have taken a couple of surprising losses, but if we're being honest... at full strength? This is the best team. Junior guard Jenae Bishop (24.6 ppg.) is doing what she did last season. After 15 games, she has not been held below 18 points in any game. 5-foot-5 junior Zariah Frierson (1.3 points, 2.7 steals per game) is averaging 5.5 rebounds a game as well.
But if 6-foot-5 TiYanna Jackson and 6-foot-3 Tiara Jackson are good to go the rest of the way, EC has size no other team has. The Cardinals outrebound everybody and they shoot 65% (161 of 248) 65% from the foul line. Not great but good enough. The only flaw they would seem to have, other than shaky 3-point shooting (about 24%), is that the smaller players excel playing fast while the big Jackson sisters need the game to slow so they can dominate. The Cards have lost to 1A No.1 Marquette (10-2), 2A No. 3 Heritage Christian (12-3), Chicago Catholic power Marist (11-1) and Crown Point (12-5). The sectional (4A Sectional 1) is very tough, but EC is one of the reasons why.

2. (4A) Lake Central (11-5)
2016 (23-2), 2015 (22-4), 2014 (19-3), 2013 (16-8)

ST. JOHN: I'm not sure Lake Central is better than Marquette. If LC can play Penn and Marquette can play Penn, then LC can play Marquette. Maybe they will in the next year or two. But I just can't put Marquette above Lake Central just yet. Players are players but Lake Central just plays like a big school team should play. LC was 1-3 in November but since then, the Indians are 10-2. LC got stomped by Northridge (18-1) on Dec. 30 but that's no big deal. The 58-53 loss to East Chicago also isn't a black mark. Lake Central is 4-0 in the DAC including close wins over Chesterton (9-5) and Merrillville (12-5) before not-so-close wins over Crown Point (11-5) and Michigan City (8-7). LC senior forward Kylie Fehrman (11.9 ppg.) leads a balanced attack. Junior Lauren Ladowski (9.9 ppg.) shoots 53% from the floor. And freshman Sara Zabrecky (5.1 ppg.) shoots 44% from 3-point range and 75% from the line in her debut season. LC, which allows just 45 points a game, plays at Gary West Side (10-3) on Jan. 11 and they host Valpo (10-6) on Jan. 20 and St. Joseph's (10-1) on Jan. 27. The only problem with this team is that East Chicago is in their sectional and LC is one of many teams that don't match up well with them.

3. (1A) (MC) Marquette (10-2)
2016 (24-3), 2015 (9-15), 2014 (4-14), 2013 (2-18)

MICHIGAN CITY: Marquette has beefed up the schedule. They have taken down Lafayette Catholic (8-6) and East Chicago (11-4), but have taken losses 48-35 from 4A No. 7 Penn (14-2) and 45-31 at 1A No. 3 Argos (14-0). (Did you know Argos is 38-4 the last 2 seasons? I didn't.) 6-foot-1 sophomore twins Emma Nolan (14.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and Sophia Nolan (16.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks) and soph guard Megan Crook (10.3 points, 3.1 assists) have all upped their numbers from last season. This team still has only one senior in 5-foot-9 senior Hannah Nolan (5.1 ppg.). Emma Nolan plays inside. Sophia Nolan, who is 25 of 67 on 3-point shots, plays outside. The core of this team has reportedly played together a long time, like the best public school teams. If you don't recognize some of the teams on Marquette's schedule, it's okay. They probably don't either. But Marquette plays at (South Bend) St. Joseph's (10-1) on Jan. 20 at (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Hersey (14-2) on Jan. 14 and at undefeated Montini, Illinois (16-0) on Jan. 16. This is the same team Marquette had last year with a new coach and girls who are now a year older. Obviously they are big enough and have enough skilled players to win most nights. If they lose in the post-season early (Marquette lost 44-43 to North White in the regional semifinals in 2016), it won't be because they played a weak schedule.

4. (4A) Merrillville (12-5)
2016 (20-7), 2015 (21-8), 2014 (16-7), 2013 (23-2), 2012 (21-1)

MERRILLVILLE: After 17 games and three tournaments (including the Pirates' own holiday tourney), Merrillville is back where they were last year. No. Really. Merrillville was 12-5 after 17 games last season. 5-foot-5 guard Jasmine Wright (17.3 ppg.) hit six three-pointers in a win over Highland last week. 5-foot-7 Kiara Thompson averages 15.3 ppg. The interesting thing about Merrillville is how losses don't seem to affect them for any lasting period. Merrillville lost 70-25 to Northridge (18-1) in December and 52-32 to Jeffersonville (10-6) last month. Last year, the Pirates lost by 17 to Lake Central in the season and came back to win the sectional. Two years ago, they lost by 27 at Columbus North in December and won the sectional and regional. All coaches will tell you that playing very good teams early helps you get better late in the year even if you get beat badly. It's not that simple. If all it took was losing to good teams to make you better, the Chicago Bulls would be making the playoffs every year. But Merrillville always seems to make it work. The Pirates seem too small up front as they look almost every year. But on New Year's Day, they had no losses to bad teams. And here they are: Merrillville at 12-5 again.

5. (4A) LaPorte (10-5)
2016 (19-7), 2015 (18-6), 2014 (20-3), 2013 (13-9)

LaPORTE: It's a good year in the DAC and LaPorte starts the calendar new year with a 4-game win streak. The Slicers lost early to Penn (14-2) and Glenn (14-2) and they hit a 3-game losing streak later when they met Northwood (12-5), Merrillville (12-5) and Elkhart Memorial (8-7). But soph guard Riley Ott (17.3 ppg.) has 17 consecutive double figure games on the perimeter, while 5-foot-10 senior Olivia West (11.2 points, 4.9 rebounds) and 6-foot-1 Tamisha Jackson (6.4 points, 4.1 rebounds) have had good games near the basket. Junior forward Janelle O'Neal (5.4 points, 10. 4 rebounds) has had four 15 rebound games. This isn't a good shooting team and that probably leaves them vulnerable on most nights. But there is that issue of rebounding with them, which is going to be a problem in close games. The good news for LaPorte is that they are in 4A Sectional 3, which is not as tough as Sectional 2 or Sectional 1. Big DAC game with Lake Central (11-5) this Friday. LaPorte can tie for the DAC title if they win their final three league games.

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

CROWN POINT: CP is a little light at the offensive end of the floor, averaging just under 47 points a game. But they have that win over East Chicago (11-4) and the only surprising team they've lost to is Highland (8-7). Junior Mya Scheidt (13.3 points, 3.6 assists per game) has been strong at point guard and 5-foot-10 forward Sydney Taylor (16.5 points, 7.6 rebounds) has led the team in scoring. Soph guard Caitlin Phillips (6.8 points, 1.9 assists) has been the only other significant scorer. Only two seniors and two juniors have played for CP this year. Some underclassmen will certainly be contributing more as time goes by. The Lady Bulldogs still have Merrillville (12-5) and Kankakee Valley (12-1) yet to play as well as a road game at Chesterton (9-5). I'm not sure there's a lot of difference between Chesterton, Valpo (10-6) and CP (11-5) and the Lady Bulldogs were a little shorthanded while winning the Hanover Central tournament with three victories. But a 47 points-a-game offense is hard to make work in the long run.

7. (4A) Valparaiso (10-6)
2016 (14-9), 2015 (14-11), 2014 (9-11), 2013 (3-18)

VALPO: Valpo has done very well with a young team. 6-foot juniors Ali Gerdt (11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds) and Taelynn Oeling (9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds) make it hard to get shots off inside and 5-foot-8 Maddie Karp (8.5 ppg.) had made 23 of 55 three-point shots at the holiday break. There's just two seniors here so the immediate future is a little unpredictable. The Vikings have already lost to LaPorte (10-5) and Merrillville (12-5), so they won't win the DAC. But the post-season 4A Sectional title is wide open, even though the Vikings have lost 60-39 to sectional rival KV (13-1). Other losses are to Hamilton Southeastern (14-3) and Cathedral (9-5), but they did nip Chesterton (9-5) by two points and Plymouth (9-5) by one point. It's hard to say with certainty that anyone in the DAC doesn't have a significant chance to beat anyone else this year.

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Revised: January 02, 2017 .