Mackenzie in the middle

Mackenzie Blazek has never been one to back down from a challenge.

A two-time All-County selection in girls basketball, the Whiteland junior has been a target for opposing teams from the moment she suited up for the Warriors. The scrutiny, whether it comes from opponents, fans or college coaches, has never gotten to her.

Quite the contrary. Blazek  — who averaged 17.3 points and 12.8 rebounds as a sophomore — actually seems to enjoy wearing a bulls-eye on her back.

“It’s definitely not a burden,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity, because it’s made me a better player and it’s helping prepare me for the next level.”

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Playing college basketball is, barring major injury, almost certainly in Blazek’s future. She’s already sitting on more than a dozen Division I offers, with suitors from as far east as New York (St. Bonaventure) and as far west as South Dakota.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno is among the believers — as is longtime scout Rick Bolus, who ranks Blazek among his top 100 prep prospects regardless of class.

So, too, is Whiteland coach Kyle Shipp, who plans to once again build his team around the 6-foot-2 post.

“Obviously, we really want to play inside out first and let Mackenzie do her thing down low,” Shipp said. “And then from that point on, we really feel like we have some pieces around her, that we have some players that can get to the basket or we have some players can knock down some jump shots if we need them to. But really, what we do centers around Mackenzie and her skill set.”

Blazek isn’t the only major contributor back for the Warriors, though. Sidney Crowe was the team’s No. 2 scorer last season at 10.5 ppg, and Ashley West was also a starter last season.

With a slew of returning players around to complement that trio, Shipp is feeling good about his team’s chances.

“We really feel like we’re at a point in time where it’s time to win championships, so the expectations are probably as high as they’ve been,” he said.

Blazek said that last year’s team sought to change the way people see Whiteland girls basketball — a goal she feels the team reached. This year, the Warriors won’t be content with just being competitive. Whether it’s the Johnson County tournament, the Mid-State Conference or the sectional, Shipp’s crew has just one thing in mind.

“Our goal is to cut a net,” Blazek said.

Scouting the Warriors

Coach: Kyle Shipp

Last year: 14-10 (3-3 Mid-State Conference); lost to Greenwood in Class 4A sectional semifinal

Who’s back: Mackenzie Blazek, Sidney Crowe, Jessyca Napier, Natalie Stuck, Ashley West

Who’s gone: Sydney Mize, Kate White

New kids on the block: Libby Baker, Megan Harlow, Tabby Holzhausen, Taylor Klenner, Madelyn Napier, Lacie Tekulve

Outlook: Whiteland has spent the last few years gradually earning more and more respect as a program to be reckoned with. Now, the Warriors hope to earn the higher level of respect that comes with winning championships — and with a returning nucleus that includes a dominant post presence in Blazek, that hope could become a reality. Each of the team’s three primary goals — county, conference and sectional championships — are realistic. It’s just a matter of finding out whether Whiteland can cash in.

Shipp says: “We’re really excited about the progression that we’ve been on here the last couple of years. … Our key is just kind of taking care of ourselves and worrying about getting better every single day.”

2016-17 schedule

Date;Opponent;Time

Nov. 5;at Greenfield-Central;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 11;Franklin Central;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 15-19;Johnson County tournament at Edinburgh;TBA

Nov. 23;Decatur Central;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 26;Plainfield;1:30 p.m.

Nov. 29;Roncalli;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 6; at Triton Central;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 10;at Martinsville;1:30 p.m.

Dec. 13;Indian Creek;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 21;at Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 3;Center Grove;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 6;at Greenwood;6 p.m.

Jan. 9;at Jennings County;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 12;Beech Grove;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 14;at New Palestine;1:30 p.m.

Jan. 19;Shelbyville;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 21;Franklin;1:30 p.m.

Jan. 24;at Columbus North;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 27;at Mooresville;6 p.m.

Author photo
Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.