This week, we will play a highly anticipated NECC girls basketball tournament. The field is pretty level this year, so some big games are expected and there may be some “upsets,” don’t be too surprised at any of our winners.
Angola are the defending champions after beating Fairfield in the final a season ago. This year’s final will take place at Westview High School. In lieu of a schedule, you can see full bracket below put out by the NECC. The top team listed is the home team and each round will follow the winning girls team as a host site. All girls games start at 6 p.m. with a boys game to follow.
Then, check out our preview of the event where we name the favorite, the best contender and then discuss the remaining teams in order of likelihood (as determined by Outside the Huddle) to win the title.
There have been some closer calls lately for the Railroaders in conference, but close isn’t a loss. So far, this team has looked practically unbeatable because they are able to either start fast or close hard. When they do both, consider yourself in serious peril. The Railroaders’ starting five is as good, if not better than any first five in the area. The question is, when forced into depth, how will they do. This is a week where Garrett could be pushed that direction having to win four games in five days.
Morgan Ostrowski, Bailey Kelham and Nataley Armstrong all have arguments as this tournament’s best player while Taylor Gerke and Faith Owen can both be the best player on this team. Combined, the five rebound, score, pass and shoot as well as anyone. This could be Garrett’s tournament to win or lose.
After their week leading into this tournament, we are going to slot the Hornets as the top contender. They won four conference games in six days and gave West Noble and Lakeland their first conference losses of the year. That makes it clear: Angola has proven they can beat almost everyone as they try to defend their tournament title.
That one team they did lose to? Well a game against Garrett could be completely different the second time around. Hanna Knoll is playing her best basketball of her senior season. She is averaging a conference best 18.3 points per game. Expect to see Lauren Leach and Megan Nisun as good veteran threats to have.
WEST NOBLE (13-3)
Their draw didn’t help them, but West Noble is a very deep team in terms of scoring and they are comfortable having different girls take lead every night. Lilly Mast and Mackensy Mabie are two of the conference’s most dangerous scorers, but don’t count out most of this roster.
Just two teams have a better defensive average in the NECC this season with the Chargers holding opponents to 33.8 points per game while winning by a league second best 23.6 points per game.
CENTRAL NOBLE (11-3)
The fact that the Cougars just pushed Garrett to their limits keeps them near a contendership spot. People sometimes forget the wars that Bridgette Gray and Lydia Andrews have been in during their careers, including a state title. This is a battle tested crew with battle tested coaches and they may have the co-best draw in this tournament.
Gray is averaging a team best 12.2 points per game but the Cougars’ real highlight is that they average 14.2 steals per game as their pressure has never changed. Madi Vice leads them with 3.5. steals per game.
The Lakers have the other side of that best draw with the winner of their Tuesday game against Central Noble having to be the favorite to reach the finals from the bottom side of the bracket. Lakeland has lost two straight but have who is arguably still the conference’s scariest scorer in Bailey Hartsough (16.9 ppg). They are one of four NECC teams who are winning by more than 10 points per game on average.
Sophomores Faith Riehl (11.7 ppg) and Peyton Hartsough (7.4 ppg) could be game changers as well. Lakeland just needs multiple top scorers to be clicking on the same. day.
The runner up team from a year ago, this group has gotten seasoned as well. They are 5-2 in conference and just like Central Noble, they can say they hung with conference leader Garrett well. Losing to the Railroaders by just two points, the Fairfield defense has the ability to keep a lot of other teams low in scoring. Fairfield’s defensive average is lower than the offensive average of 10 conference opponents.
The Blazers are pushing for consistency in the tournament and their draw, while rough, gives them some upset possibilities. Sullivan and Skye Kessler are both really good shooters capable of getting very hot. Eastside has experience and are no brainer pick for a tournament spoiler.
For the Blazers, it is important that Ally King, Jaiden Baker and Grace Kriescher all play big and physical against a conference that is increasingly big and physical.
PRAIRIE HEIGHTS (6-9)
Heights is in the middle of a rebuild but too are coming off a good loss, nearly beating Angola late last week. Alayna Boots is really starting to live up to her potential as a scorer on multiple levels. Trevyn Terry has been the Panthers most consistent performer while shooting 37 percent from the field.
The Eagles haven’t been as strong as many expected but Jada Rhonehouse still has the potential to be one of the better scorers in the conference while she is averaging 9.8 points per game right now. She has scored in double figures in more than half of the Fremont games, this just isn’t a great draw for them.
Senior Mariah Hosted is a high energy rebounder and she’s not the only one who can bring a lot of passion and pressure to the floor. Busco has lacked consistency in their scoring, shooting just 25 percent from the field this season. Freshman Jorja DeBolt is coming off three bad games, but at her peak she is a threat from behind the arc.
The Warriors could win a third straight with a first round rematch with Hamilton, which is a great breath of fresh air after 14 losses to begin the season. This is an incredibly young team that has shown signs of life in their last two games, but would need a lot of help to make it past Friday’s semi-final round.
The Marines have played just three games in a shortened season. Their prospects aren’t solid in this one, but it is encouraging to see them compete in the conference tournament this season. Any step forward is a step in the right direction for this program.
BREAKOUT PLAYER POTENTIAL
FAITH OWEN, GARRETT: Why her above the others in this lineup? Owen is a deadly, lights out shooter and it seems like some in the area may have forgotten about that. When Owen is hitting, Garrett is at their best because it opens everything else up on the floor.
LAUREN LEACH, ANGOLA: Knoll is going to continue to get all kinds of defenses thrown at her and she will thrive, but Leach can keep things going. She is a solid scorer who will be crucial on the offensive glass to keep getting the Hornets opportunities.
MACKENSY MABIE, WEST NOBLE: Mabie (14.4 ppg) will head into her first NECC Tournament as possibly the best NECC Tournament newcomer. If she plays to her highest potential, there is every chance that the Chargers could win this tournament.