Fairfield has been building for this season.
It has its top scorer back.
And it has three other starters returning.
The Falcons were one shot away from their first-ever state finals appearance, but fell to Frankton 35-34 in the Class 2A North Semi-State at LaPorte.
Fairfield moves up to Class 3A this season but expectations don’t change.
It starts with Indiana Wesleyan commit Brea Garber, whose 6-1 frame has presented problems for opposing defenses since she was a freshman. She led the team in every major category last season with 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. Garber’s ability to score anywhere on court will continue to present headaches for opposing coaches. Also, her length creates a lot of turnovers and blocked shots on the defensive end.
Bailey Willard is a sharpshooter who averaged just under 10 ppg last season. She’s also shown the skill to put the ball on the floor when a defender closes out too strong on the perimeter. Her rebounding ability and toughness will be called upon a lot this year.
Fellow senior Morgan Gawthrop will also command a bigger role after the graduation of Brooke Sanchez. She scored seven points a game and was second in the team in rebounds last year with 5.4 per contest.
Kaylee Dillon’s role is also expected to increase. Her defense is something the Falcons can consistently rely on. She will continue to harass opposing guards as she did last year with 2.1 steals per game.
The minutes for senior Delana Geiger, juniors Mckenna Fisher, Jayslynn Hall and Savannah Cronin all could increase as well to help build up depth that the Falcons will desperately need this season.
“We are looking to develop a deeper bench this year. Last year we would often only go seven deep and towards tournament time we only went six deep on numerous occasions,” head coach Brodie Garber said.
Hall missed half the season with an injury but now healthy, she will provide some size inside.
The Falcons have four newcomers that will look to add to the rotation, including junior Natalie Whitaker, sophomores Zoie Miller and Haddee Herbert and freshman Eva Herbert.
Eva Herbert is expected to help right away and give Fairfield another ball handler.
The Falcons are the favorites in the NECC but their aspirations are much higher than a conference title. Back-to-back 20-win seasons are hard to come by. This year’s team could accomplish that feat.
They will continue to lean on their defense. The conference won’t be easy with a couple of challengers, but Fairfield should also be expected to make more noise in the postseason.
Fairfield returns a lot from a team that was on the doorstep of the Class 2A title game. The jump to Class 3A won’t be as tough with the amount of experience that returns. This team has been through it all the last few seasons and are prepared for another successful campaign under coach Garber.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The Falcons are the top team in the NECC, but the lack of games and wins against other high-end area teams the last few seasons keep them at No. 7. They have what you want in terms of a top go-to scorer and senior leadership, but their depth could be an issue.
Their schedule early gives them ample opportunity to raise their stock.
Nov. 19 at Columbia City
It’s only the Falcons’ sixth game of the season but it’s against one of the better teams in the area. The Eagles will test the Falcons’ depth and have multiple defenders to throw at Brea Garber.
This game starts a month-long stretch that will challenge Fairfield in a number of different ways.
Morgan Gawthrop, senior
Everyone knows about Brea Garber and Bailey Willard, but it was Gawthrop, who showed up in quite a few big spots last season. With defenses focusing on the first two options, Gawthrop will have to pick up the slack when the Falcons’ offense gets stuck in the mud.
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