Despite not getting as much attention as the SAC, the Northeast Corner Conference has been a hotbed of girls basketball in recent years, culminating last year in Central Noble’s undefeated league record and a second-consecutive trip to semistate.
Considering the last four years have had four different teams win the conference championship, could another contender rise to challenge the best of the NECC this campaign?
Angola (GIRLS HOOPS PREVIEW #7) has had five-consecutive seasons of 12 or more victories, including last year’s 21-win campaign. But this season could be the year the Hornets ascend to the top of the league for the first time since 2017.
Four of the top six scorers are back, including junior Hanna Knoll, who has quickly ascended to be one of the top players in all of northeast Indiana.
After a solid rookie year, sophomore Lauren Leach (Top 50 Girls Hoops #48) will be a lock to improve upon her 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds per game averages. She is a versatile player who fits a variety of roles for Angola.
With seniors such as Janna Lee and Kayla Fenstermaker (Top 50 Girls Hoops #42) also back, look for Angola to be the favorite in the NECC this year.
The two best players in Central Noble (GIRLS HOOPS PREVIEW #10) girls basketball history are gone in Sydney Freeman and Meleah Leatherman, but Coach Josh Treesh has plenty from which to reload with.
Juniors Bridgette Gray (Top 50 Girls Hoops #20) and Lydia Andrews (Top 50 Girls Hoops #45) will be the duo to watch for the Cougars, with a lot of underclassmen mixed in to keep the program rolling after 50 wins and a state championship over the last two years.
West Noble has not had a season in which it did not reach 11 wins since way back in 2010-11. After back-to-back 18-victory seasons, the Chargers will look to contend with the likes of Central Noble and Angola. Junior Lilly Mast (10.9 points per game, Top 50 Girls Hoops #29) is ready to burst onto the scene after growing her game significantly in each of the last two years.
After a 15-win season last year, Lakeland returns its entire roster with the exception of Makayla Mast. Bailey Hartsough (19.0 ppg, Top 50 Girls Hoops #16) may very well be the second-best player in the league behind Knoll.
While three of the top four scorers have graduated, Garrett has an ace in the hole in sophomore Faith Owen (Top 50 Girls Hoops #43). As a freshman, Owen led the Railroaders in scoring at just over 10 points per game. Classmates Nataley Armstrong, Morgan Ostrowski and Abby Weaver should also help Owen as Garrett looks to surprise with a young team.
Prairie Heights has not finished with a winning record since 2011-12, but that could change thanks to senior Alexis German (10.2 ppg, Top 50 Girls Hoops #24). Sophomores Kennedy Kugler and Alayna Boots are also two players to keep an eye on.
Despite winning just six games last year, Fairfield is a contender to make the biggest jump up the NECC standings. The top three scorers are back led by senior Chloe Dell, while freshman Brea Garber is supposed to be the real deal.
Abi Irwin has moved on, but Churubusco returns four of its top five scorers. That should mean an improvement upon the five wins for the Eagles last season. Scoring at a clip higher than 35.2 points per game will be important as well.
Eastside has a new coach in Mike Lortie, who will look to get the Blazers back to the level of a few years ago when the program won 15 games.
Losing Ashya Klopfenstein and her 17 points per game is a big hit for Westview, which one 14 games last season but will likely drop down the standings a bit as they rebuild.
A large senior class for Fremont will look to offset the graduation of Bella Dangerfield. A 17-win campaign last year was the best from the Eagles since 2009-10.
Hanna Knoll of Angola’s lasting memory of a season ago was a 28-point effort against Marion in a sectional loss. After an offseason of improvement, Knoll is a good bet to emerge as the best player in the league.
Bailey Hartsough of Lakeland averaged nearly 20 points per game last year. On paper, she appears to be the leader offensively for the Lakers, who bring back a lot of production and have an outside shot at competing for a league title.
Faith Owen of Garrett leads a talented sophomore class that could be the catalyst in the Railroaders rising into the top of the NECC conversation. Owen averaged 10 points per game last year as a freshman and should improve upon that significantly in Year 2.
PLAYERS ON THE RISE
Jazmyn Smith of West Noble only saw action in seven games a year ago for the Chargers, but should burst upon the varsity scene this season as a sophomore. The 5-foot-10 point guard has the handles, the quickness and the scoring ability to be a disruptive force in the NECC.
Nataley Armstrong of Garrett did not play as big of a role as Owen her freshman season, but still led the team in assists. Her scoring acumen should rise her second year in as well as her rebuilding ability.
Bridgette Gray of Central Noble is just one of several players that the Cougars will look to replace the mass of production lost to graduation. What the shooting guard lacks in stature (5-5) she can make up for in pure scoring ability.
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