At one point or another, injuries, illness — or both at the same time — have sidelined all but one member of the Greenwood girls basketball team for considerable stretches.
Flu, strep throat, twisted knees and concussions all have taken a toll.
Not only that, but on the rare occasions the senior-led Woodmen were at full-strength, they didn’t always play like defending sectional champions — which they are.
Sounds like a pretty dreadful year for Greenwood, right? Wrong.
Health issues and execution lapses notwithstanding, the Woodmen enter tonight’s opening game of the Class 4A Franklin Sectional among the frontrunners to claim the title.
They are 16-4. They’ve won eight of their past 10 games. They have six tournament-tested seniors. And they are, as noted earlier, the defending champions.
Just don’t tell them they’re favorites.
“I don’t feel like our kids think that,” said 10th-year coach Debbie Guckenberger, whose team plays tournament-host Franklin (7-13) at 6 p.m. today. “I feel like all season long we’ve had that target on our back. A lot of teams that we beat last year just couldn’t wait to play Greenwood.
“But at the same time, I think our kids are looking for respect.”
That’s because the Woodmen, despite their winning ways, are not the favorites. At least not on paper.
That distinction belongs to eighth-ranked Franklin Central (16-4), whose presence — along with resurgent Center Grove’s — makes the six-team field one of the toughest in Class 4A. The Flashes closed the regular season by winning 11 of their final 13 games. Their only losses in between were against No. 6 Roncalli and No. 4 Lawrence North.
Which doesn’t mean anyone is conceding anything to the Flashes. Especially not Center Grove (16-4), which plays them in tonight’s 7:30 first-round showdown.
Although the Trojans lost 68-57 on Dec. 27 at Franklin Central, they’ve picked up steam since. They enter the postseason having won six of their past seven games, the only loss being a 62-57 heartbreaker at Lawrence North on Jan. 25 in a clash that determined the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championship.
Lawrence North earned the MIC, but the Trojans learned lessons third-year coach Shawn Sanders expects will pay dividends in the state tournament.
“We expected to win. We were devastated that we lost, but we did a lot of good things in that game,” Sanders said. “We played a really athletic team, a really good rebounding team. We played really, really well against them. Even though we lost, there were a lot of things we took that I think made us better.
“As a result of that game, they all came together. I really feel good about the way we’re playing.”
With health concerns seemingly a thing of the past, Guckenberger is equally upbeat about the direction the Woodmen are heading.
Powered by senior scoring leaders Deaunna Evans (14.4 points per game), Kelsie Ratliff (11.8 ppg) and Chloe Orrvar (10.8 ppg), Greenwood enters the sectional on a two-game winning streak and, thanks to injuries that provided unexpected playing time for a wealth of underclassmen, abundantly experienced and confident.
“Throughout the season, we had to rely on a lot of our younger kids, which was a good thing,” Guckenberger said. “At the time you don’t see that as much, but in hindsight it probably has prepared us a little bit more for the tournament.
“Those kids had to really step up and give us good, quality minutes a little bit earlier than we’d planned.”
In light of the quality of the field, any edge — psychological, physical or otherwise — could be the difference.
Although the spotlight is on the Woodmen, Trojans and Flashes, Whiteland (10-11) has played well against quality opponents (it lost 43-42 to Greenwood on Jan. 4).
Franklin (7-13) has struggled thanks largely to injuries but has a proud postseason tradition under 25th-year coach Walt Raines. The Grizzly Cubs ended the regular season with a confidence-boosting 43-37 win at Shelbyville.
New Palestine (3-17) has lost 10 of its past 11 games and is the longest of long shots in an otherwise wide-open, highly competitive sectional.
“I don’t know if there’s a better one (in Class 4A),” Sanders said. “I would say if we’re not the toughest, we’re the second-toughest in the state.”
Guckenberger agrees. And perhaps the most encouraging aspect for the Woodmen is that, as defending champions, they know how to navigate choppy postseason waters.
Yet this time, they prefer to do it under the radar.
“I think it’s going to help that we have a sectional championship under our belt,” Guckenberger said. “Having a little bit of success last year is hopefully going to maybe give us a little bit of an edge, mentally. You’ve still got to go out and play the game, obviously.
“Yes, we do have a target on our back, but at the same time, I don’t know that anybody expects Greenwood to win the sectional.”