This is easily the 2nd ranked team in Class 3A. Garrett has continuously proven that beating them is not easy and it is coming from multiple ways better than usual.
Bailey Kelham continues to be one of the top players in all of the area, but as she continue to face the toughest pressure from other teams, others have stepped up around her. She is the second leading scorer in the conference and is capable of taking over games any time this week.
In the absence of Taylor Gerke due. to injury, Garrett has really seen Nataley Armstrong take off. She is averaging 9.7 points per game and remains a very clear viewed point guard who can make great plays to spread out the floor with her passing. And of course Morgan Ostrowski gives Garrett three players in the top 15 in the conference in scoring. How do you deal with that depth?
Depth is the thing this week, something we didn’t see out of Garrett in the past outside of the top 5. But this season, there are 8-9 girls consistently stepping up, like Makenna Malcolm and Kaitlyn Bergman, who have already shown an ability to knock down big shots.
This is just facts: this is Garrett’s tournament to lose. They are searching for their first NECC Tournament title in 18 years.
WHO COULD SURPRISE
Angola, Fairfield and Eastside are all ones to watch as spoilers.
Angola has an easier path on the top half of the bracket. They are versatile, tough and play aggressively on defense. The Hornets could really build a lot of momentum to possibly reach the NECC Tournament finals again. They aren’t the “favorites” but have to be considered the top contender. These are the two time defending champions after all. It is important for Angola to get off good shots and find consistency shooting the ball. That lands on Kylie Caswell and Jaelyn Fee as much as anyone.
Fairfield just lost a game to Garrett that says they. can no. longer be considered a favorite. That said, this is. still a very good team that we have to believe is still a credible threat to win the whole thing. Depth and intelligent defense is critical to what Fairfield does. Brea Garber is going to get hers, but if Brooke Sanchez plays at her best, look out for Fairfield.
We like Eastside because of their ability to be able to slow games down and take teams out of their own stride. If Skye Kessler can be her normal self, Paige Traxler can have some breakout performances and Grace Kreischer can own the inside, don’t think that Eastside can’t have some fun this week.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jazmyn Smith of West Noble leads the NECC is scoring at 17.7 points per game and has shown that she cans score at a high level almost no matter the opponent. If she can get some backup, that helps West Noble get more than one game in this tournament. But even if they don’t, Smith’s scoring prowess is some of the most fun in the NECC to watch.
Kennedy Kugler of Prairie Heights is one of the more dominant posts in this conference. There are only a couple of players who are big matchup issues for her. She rebounds the ball well and with aggression nightly.
Jada Rhonehouse of Fremont gets looked over too much. She has led this team for years and is a Wednesday win and a Friday upset from. putting her team in the finals. Rhonehouse averages 13.6 points per game and could be in for some big moments this week.
Madi Vice of Central Noble is the 5th best scorers in the conference and has really turned herself into a high level contributor on multiple levels this conference. Vice can score at all three levels. She can rebounds, scores, passes and plays high level defense.
Bailey Kelham of Garrett is, from top to bottom, the best player in the conference. Others have stepped up at Garrett and elsewhere, but at the end of the day, Kelham leads the way. If she decides to take over this week with her scoring and off ball movement, everyone else is just going to have to play chase.
LIKELY TOURNAMENT MVP
The NECC doesn’t actually give out this honor so I am projecting a theoretical one: Garrett‘s Nataley Armstrong. The Railroaders could have a lot of options here but lately Armstrong has just been on a high level scoring to go along with being one of the state’s best distributing point guards.
So for that reason, we think that Armstrong is playing like the best player in the conference right now.
Other players like Brea Garber, Skye Kessler and Lauren Leach could all have big outputs this week too.
BOUNCE’S TOURNAMENT PREDICTION
The opening round will see some good rematches but the winners shouldn’t be big surprises. I see Angola, Lakeland, Fairfield and Garrett taking home wins. That said, all of the games other than Garrett’s could be very fun ones to watch.
Wednesday’s quarterfinals are harder to project because of the lack of knowing who the home teams will be. In the NECC Tournament, the host site follows the boys winner. I’ll take Angola over Lakeland, Churubusco over Fremont, Garrett over Fairfield and Prairie Heights over Westview.
Friday’s semi final will be where I have Angola over Churubusco and Garrett over Prairie Heights.
So that final? It is no surprise that Bounce picks the final he does. But just like the first time around, I will take Garrett topping Angola, this time on a neutral court.