Together to triumph

Warriors add depth, experience around standout senior center

When facing the Whiteland girls basketball team, opponents almost always build their gameplans around trying to stop Mackenzie Blazek.

And for good reason — the 6-foot-3 Illinois recruit was an Indiana Junior All-Star last season as well as the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year.

For the Warriors to enjoy more success as a team, it’s imperative that Blazek’s teammates make themselves dangerous enough that defenses can’t afford to collapse in on the middle.

Coach Kyle Shipp feels like he now has a solid supporting cast with enough talent and experience to do that.

“We feel like we’re putting players in some good situations to help Mackenzie out to be successful, not only as an individual but as a team as well,” he said.

The now-graduated Sidney Crowe had the ball in her hands most of the time on the perimeter last year. The workload should be split a little more evenly this winter; juniors Natalie Stuck and Megan Harlow, both of whom logged major minutes off the bench a season ago, will be stepping into starting roles, and classmate Libby Baker is expected to become the primary ballhandler.

“Libby has stepped up big time this summer, and she is a lot more consistent with the ball and can make moves and get to the rim,” Stuck said.

Madelyn Napier, Taylor Klenner and Taylor Mirowski should see time off the bench.

Whiteland also figures to have more options in the post, where production cratered last season when Blazek was hurt or in foul trouble. Sophomore Toni Joyner should see a lot of action both in place of and with Blazek, and senior Michaela Adams, back after not playing as a junior, provides further reinforcement.

The Warriors will likely go nine players deep, a few more than Shipp has been willing to trust in the past, and they’re already seeing the benefits of that additional depth.

“We have a lot of people who can come in,” Blazek said, “and that makes practices a lot more competitive, which is making us better every day.”

All that remains to be seen is how well those competitive practices translate once the games start. The good news for the juniors stepping into the spotlight is that no single individual is going to feel the pressure to do too much by herself.

“Everybody’s going to be asked to do a little bit more than they’ve done in the past,” Shipp said.

Scouting the Warriors

Head coach: Kyle Shipp

Last season: 11-14, lost to Martinsville in sectional semifinal

Key returnees: Libby Baker, Jr. G; Mackenzie Blazek, Sr. C; Megan Harlow, Jr. G/F; Toni Joyner, So., F; Taylor Klenner, Jr., G; Taylor Mirowski, Jr., F; Madelyn Napier, Jr., G; Natalie Stuck, Jr., G;

Fresh faces: Michaela Adams, Sr., F; Sarah DeCastro, Jr., G

Outlook: Any assessment of the Warriors begins with Blazek, the Daily Journal’s Player of the Year after averaging 18 points, 13.4 rebounds and 4 blocks as a junior. We know the Illinois commit can dominate in the post; how far Whiteland can get will depend largely on how well the supporting cast performs. Stuck showed signs of growth last year and could become a leader on the perimeter, where players need to be able to knock down shots and keep defenses honest. If teams can get away with double- and triple-teaming Blazek, they will.

Coachspeak: “We’ve got a nice core of juniors to go around Mackenzie, and a lot of those girls have varsity experience — the Stucks, the Bakers, the Harlows, Taylor Klenner a little bit last year, Mirowski a little bit last year. So we feel like we have good returning people.” — Shipp

2017-18 schedule

Date;Opponent;Time

Nov. 4;Greenfield-Central;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 10;at Franklin Central;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 14-18;Johnson County tournament;TBA

Nov. 22;at Decatur Central;7:30 p.m.

Nov. 28;at Roncalli;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 1;at Plainfield;6 p.m.

Dec. 5;Triton Central;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 9;Martinsville;1:30 p.m.

Dec. 12;at Indian Creek;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 20;Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 28-29;Vincennes Rivet tournament;TBA

Jan. 2;at Center Grove;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 5;Greenwood;6 p.m.

Jan. 8;Jennings County;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 13;New Palestine;1:30 p.m.

Jan. 18;at Shelbyville;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 20;at Franklin;1:30 p.m.

Jan. 23;Columbus North;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 26;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.