PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Girls basketball vying for regional titles in weekend's action

Feb. 8—Three area girls basketball teams are left fighting following a sectional week stuffed with elite competition.

All of our sectional champions in the area experienced at least one close game during their path to the title. As a reward, they have received the week to breath before the one-game regionals take place this Saturday.

A look into each matchup and what to expect is below:

(4A) #8 Northridge Raiders (24-3) vs. Valparaiso Vikings (18-7)

Where/When: LaPorte High School, Saturday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. CT

Coaches: Doug Springer (Northridge, 17th season), Candy Wilson (Valparaiso, 10th season)

At stake: spot in Semi-State round

Last regional title: Northridge (2017), Valparaiso (2004)

More: Heading west into the central time zone, Northridge got a much-needed week to rest before they match up with Valparaiso Saturday. Perhaps playing the toughest sectional path of any team in northern Indiana, the Raiders took down Warsaw, Elkhart and Penn to defend the Madhouse.

That may be exhausting, but the Raiders have motivation behind them. Northridge bowed out to Lake Central last year at this same point, making this go-around a chance to go further.

To do that, relying on their depth is most crucial to the plan. Junior Rielyn Goodwin got head coach Doug Springer to sing her praises after the sectional title win — for good reason too. Goodwin leads the team in scoring with over 10 points a game, but what she excels at is the overall awareness on the court to find her teammates or slip to the hoop for an acrobatic finish.

Morgan Cross, Gaby Gates, Ella Mohamed and Sabrina Miller all round out the starting lineup. The all-upperclassman field shows its experience with the focus of the offensive attack being to share the ball. Six Raiders hold over 40 assists this season and four have more than 60. As a result, six players average more than six points a game.

On the flip side is a drastically different Valparaiso team.

Top-heavy is the Vikings game, with sophomore 5-foot-10 guard Lillian Barnes as the one steering the ship. She averages over 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block a game. Senior sidekick Becca Gerdt joins the fun too, averaging over 15 points a game.

Both Northridge and Valparaiso lost in the regional round last year and the Vikings last regional title was in 2004 while the Raiders last won in 2017.

(3A) NorthWood Panthers (19-6) vs. New Prairie Cougars (20-5)

Where/When: Jimtown High School, Saturday Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. ET

Coaches: Taylor Burkhart (NorthWood, 2nd season), Aimee Litka (New Prairie, 4th season)

At stake: spot in Semi-State round

Last regional title: NorthWood (2020), New Prairie (NA)

More: There were fair questions for the Black Swish when senior guard Joselyn Edwards went down towards the season's end.

How much would the offense be affected and would the backcourt defense crumble without the veteran's talents?

The Panthers answered our questions last weekend when NorthWood upended Fairfield's run of the sectional and took the title back home to Nappanee.

Beating West Noble in comfortable fashion was a surprise to few, but holding Fairfield in-check for a second win over the Falcons this season was impressive. Even without Edwards guide, NorthWood's defense has been stout giving up 40 or less points in three of the Panthers last four games.

New Prairie however, poses a tougher test for the Black Swish.

Led by a senior trio that all score over 12 points a game, the Cougars rely heavily on Jayden Flagg, Jolie Johns and Morgan White. Flagg operates as the point guard while shooting guards Johns and White help in lighting it up from deep. Flagg sits just below 40% shooting from behind the arc making the backcourt defense a focus for NorthWood come Saturday.

(1A) Bethany Christian Bruins (18-6) vs. Caston Comets (21-3)

Where/When: Caston High School, Saturday Feb. 10, at 7 p.m.

Coaches: Krysten Parson (Bethany Christian, 18th season), Josh Douglass (Caston, 4th season)

At stake: spot in Semi-State round

Last regional title: Bethany Christian (2023), Valparaiso (NA)

More: Like defense?

Well, you better because in this 1A regional battle between Bethany Christian and Caston, the two teams have thrived in that department. The Comets rank second in the state, allowing just over 30 points a game. The Bruins are farther back, slotted at 27th and giving up an average of 35 points a contest.

Caston is playing after winning its first sectional championship since 1985. As a regional site, the Comets lucked out getting to host Bethany for a chance to win its first ever regional title.

Bethany has momentum too. The Bruins were hurt by injuries to its top players midway through the season but the two most experienced players of the injured trio were welcomed back in the sectional round, making Bethany a much more powerful group once again.

Led by seniors Zoe Willems (20.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.7 steals a game) and Mariah Stoltzfus (11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and four blocks per game), the Bruins have their guard combo back and ready to lead the way for Krysten Parson's group.

Standing in the way is another guard grouping. Caston's senior Isabel Scales leads the team with over 15 points a game and also stands as the top player in rebounds (8.7), assists (3.6) and steals (4.2). She's joined by Addison Zimpleman (14.1 points a game) and freshman Madisyn Douglass (9.5 points a game).

A full week of practice should help the Bruins in preparation, but Caston is the real deal. The two both faced Argos and Bremen this year with the Comets beating the Dragons by 20 before losing to the Lions by five. Bethany beat Argos by just two and lost to Bremen by three.

Interestingly, both teams were set to play each other earlier this season before winter weather wiped out the game.

Reach Matt Lucas at 574-533-2151, ext. 240325, or at