The beating that Whiteland absorbed against Center Grove in the final game of the Johnson County girls basketball tournament last month might have been enough to derail the entire season for some other teams.
The Warriors, though, kept their blinders on and got back on track — and the ride has been pretty smooth since.
Given up on by some after the Trojans’ 60-29 rout, Whiteland quietly regrouped — and has since rattled off six victories in a row to improve to 10-1.
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Coach Kyle Shipp explained that his team has simply bought into the idea that the past can’t be changed and that all you can control is the immediate future.
“Whatever happened in the rear-view mirror is in the rear-view mirror,” he said. “We control what happens next, the next play, those types of things. That’s what we focus on. So when Center Grove popped us, we just regrouped and went back to work.”
Since the loss to the Trojans, Whiteland has devoured what might have been the meatiest part of its schedule, starting with consecutive road wins over Decatur Central, Roncalli and Plainfield. The Warriors then came home and took care of previously unbeaten Triton Central before knocking off Mid-State Conference favorite Martinsville, 69-62, in overtime on Dec. 9, and scoring 83 points in a win at Indian Creek last week.
Senior center Mackenzie Blazek has, as expected, been the driving force for the Warriors — the Illinois signee leads the team in points (18.1), rebounds (14.2) and blocked shots (4.0) per game, and she was named the IBCA/Subway District 3 Player of the Week after putting up a ridiculous (29 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, nine blocks) stat line against Martinsville.
What’s really helped Whiteland get going, though, is the fact that a deep supporting cast made up primarily of juniors has found its groove.
Natalie Stuck (11.4 points, 3.4 assists, 2.6 steals) has blossomed into a do-everything guard, pacing the Warriors in assists (37), steals (29) and 3-pointers made (19). Primarily a defensive stopper last season, she’s shown she can be a force on offense, pouring in 24 points at Indian Creek.
Megan Harlow (9.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg), meanwhile, has displayed a knack for showing up in big games, scoring a career-high 18 points at Plainfield and matching that number against the Artesians eight days later. She has also shouldered much more of the ballhandling load of late with point guard Libby Baker sidelined due to injury.
“They’re awesome,” Blazek said of Stuck and Harlow. “They’re hitting their shots, and they seem to, pretty much all the time, make the right decisions. That’s what makes basketball games, making the right decisions. So I couldn’t be happier with the team we have this year.”
Sophomore Toni Joyner (6.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) has also shown promise, and at 5-foot-11 she gives the Warriors another serviceable option down low when Blazek is on the bench.
Heading into the second half of the schedule, the Warriors are firmly in control of their own destiny in the conference race, owning head-to-head wins over the next two teams in the standings. They’re also up to 29th statewide in the Sagarin ratings.
The team’s recent success could understandably lead to talk about lofty postseason goals, including a chance to potentially exact revenge on the Trojans in the sectional. But Whiteland is keeping its eye on the ball — Shipp isn’t even ready to talk about the Jan. 2 regular-season meeting with Center Grove, much less a hypothetical grudge match in February.
“The most important game on our schedule is our next opponent,” the coach said. “So we’ll focus on Perry Meridian (on Wednesday) and go from there.”
The Whiteland girls haven’t lost in a month. A look at what’s up next for the Warriors:
Dec. 20;Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 22;New Palestine;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28;Evansville Mater Dei;11:30 a.m.*
Dec. 28-29;Vincennes Rivet tournament;TBA
Jan. 2;at Center Grove;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 5;Greenwood;6 p.m.
* – at Vincennes Rivet