This is the toughest Sectional, statistically, in the state and folks it isn’t even close. With a combined record of 111-40, every team in Sectional 23 comes in with a winning record. Four of the seven teams have 15 or more wins and that is just outstanding.
It takes a lot of effort to say there are seven teams who win 73.5 percent of their games to be squaring off in one week. Six of these great teams will see their season end this week. But we will have one guaranteed 20-win team out of this Sectional as the winner of Tuesday’s rematch between Bellmont and host Norwell will hit that mark.
Games in this Sectional will be played on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. While we rate these teams just like we have the others, make no mistake that this thing is wide…wide open.
This team comes in on the strength of the three headed monster that is Grace Hunter, Meghan Busick and Kenzie McMahon, but they proved in the first meeting with Norwell that they are more than that. Hunter has become the best scorer in Adams County history and mark my words, there is no bigger star in this Sectional than her. Hunter has been the catalyst in an improving program for four seasons and she isn’t going to be willing for that to be over yet.
But Busick and McMahon have helped take the extra step. Most of this Bellmont team has tried to elevate themselves to Hunter’s level but none moreso than McMahon and Busick. I will keep harping on the first meeting with Norwell because it is clearly relevant before they face them again on Tuesday. While Hunter was fantastic, Busick made big plays and showed she really understands the flow of the game. McMahon, before some foul trouble, was critical rebounding and on defense.
This game could be played a lot like the first one in terms of physicality. Bellmont’s advantage every night they may get this week is their ability to match opponents on every level. They have done it all but two times (as that record clearly dictates).
When Norwell failed to claim a Sectional title last year, it was the first time after seven straight trophies. They were relatively inexperienced then and they are not now. The core of sophomores plays well beyond their years and there is hardly a night where Kaylee Fuelling, Maiah Shelton or Lauren Bales are not leading the way for this team who only suffered losses to three of the four area conference champions. And that Homestead game? Well they had the Spartans much more on the ropes than any other team locally has or likely will.
Look for a lot of the enthusiasm and toughness to come from seniors Aubrey Dunnuck and Ashley VandenBoom. Dunnuck is one of the hardest fighting players on the court and there is no question why she often sets the pace in rebounding. She wants the ball, not for her own purposes, but for her team’s betterment. VandenBoom, when on her game, has become of the best knockdown shooters in the Northeast 8. Her length could also help this team when they face big and skilled rebounding teams. And this Sectional is abundant with those.
Then there is the always dangerous desire for revenge. That notion comes at Bellmont, Bishop Luers and Marion. While the Bellmont note is clear, they’d love to get a win back from the Knights that knocked them out of the tournament last season and the Marion team that took home that trophy they were so well acquainted with. Norwell’s educated ability to change course throughout the game will make them a challenging match up.
If Bounce can educated the uneducated anything about the defending Sectional champions, it is this: 6-foot-6 junior Rashaya Kyle. How do you defend that? And not just how does Bishop Luers defend that in the early game Wednesday, but how does anyone? Her 16.2 points and 10.5 rebounds, coupled with her stature, make her a headline for Marion every single night.
But Marion is so far from a one trick pony. Senior Jazmyn Turner is actually the best player on the court most nights that Marion plays. She is their leading scorer and averages just two rebounds less than Kyle while also averaging three steals per game. Turner is going to give any matchup a hard time and I would expect her to be defending every other team’s best player.
On the sidelines, they benefit from Lawrence Jordan, who’s whole family is quite skilled in their basketball knowledge, including his son and current South Side point guard Austin. And Lawrence? He is pitching a perfect game in terms of Sectional titles at 1-for-1. Stopping Jordan from getting number two will be a chore.
BISHOP LUERS (13-7)
The Knights were almost added to the list of contender and with a win over Marion on Wednesday, they obviously would be. Lydia Reimbold remains one of the more underrated players in the area. What Luers did without her in the lineup showed that maybe we underrate all of them. Look for the Gray sisters, Katelynn and Ashlynn, to set a defensive tempo and force Marion to go inside anyway.
This is the best season in 12 years for the Patriots and their best ever under coach Melissa Connor. That is worth something. And it pays off in the random draw with a first round bye to Friday and more time to prepare for the winner of Bellmont and Norwell. They have won 6 of their last 7 but actually have the worst record (2-5) in Class 3A of any team in this tournament. Bree Dossen asserting her dominance is the most important thing for them. When she is toughest, they are their best.
COLUMBIA CITY (13-10)
The Eagles will play the late game Wednesday against Mississinewa and if they hope to make it to their own hosted Regional round, the Eagles will need to establish more consistency. They have won four straight, so maybe that is exactly what is happening. Carly Mabie and Olivia Shearer have been the best models of consistency, so Bounce says let them lead the way.
The least of the noticed teams in this because of their vicinity, Mississinewa has played well against Bellmont and Bishop Luers. While junior Caily Bolser’s 13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game lead the way, this team is still quite young. Does that play a role? I guess you could say if we don’t expect it to hamper Norwell, then we shouldn’t expect it to slow Missisinewa.
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