GREENFIELD — Records can be deceiving but a schedule never lies; at least that’s what Greenfield-Central head coach Doug Laker said he believes when he sees 6-6 in his team’s win-loss column.
Crafted by precise design, each game on Greenfield-Central’s regular-season slate was hand picked by Laker and was never meant to give the Class 4A Cougars an easy road past their school-record 23 wins from a year ago.
Instead, it’s been a welcomed test, one that will pit the program against seven of the state’s top 20 teams by late January.
Of the Cougars’ six losses so far this season, four have come against top 10 teams in 4A, including No. 1 Homestead, No. 1 North Central, No. 5 Hamilton Southeastern and No. 6 Pike.
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They face No. 16 Plainfield, along with three-star senior Kayla Casteel, an Evansville recruit, to open the Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle on Dec. 29. No. 3 Carmel awaits on Jan. 14.
“We play the best schedule in the state. Bottom line, in the end, it’s going to make us better. It’s gotten us better,” Laker said. “I put this together with the (state) tournament in mind. Hopefully, it helps. You never know when you put a schedule like that together, but let’s see what happens.”
All eyes will be on the Fourth Annual Laker Farm Implement/Riley Park Tire Tournament at Greenfield-Central this week, beginning Thursday, the Cougars’ first of back-to-back tournaments.
The two-day event on their home court hosts eight teams, including Class 2A No. 1 Whitko (11-1), three Division I senior standouts and several underclassmen rising stars.
The Cougars open the tournament at 10 a.m. today against a potential Sectional 9 opponent in Richmond (1-9).
Whitko and Xavier signee Aly Reiff face 4A Gary West (9-1) and five-star Louisville recruit Dana Evans, who leads the state in scoring (37.0 points per game), in the anticipated second game at 11:30 a.m.
“It’s going to be solid again,” Laker remarked on the tournament field.
The concept behind the holiday event was the brainchild of Laker after the Hancock County Tournament was dissolved. Initially a four-team field as Greenfield-Central hosted Centerville, Bloomington North and Fishers in 2013-14, the event’s invitation list expanded two-fold the next year.
Class 4A Westfield (5-7) returns for a second time after beating Greenfield-Central 42-34 in the championship game last year to win the tournament. The Shamrocks play 4A East Chicago Central (8-4) and dynamic junior guard Jenasae Bishop at 2:30 p.m.
Class 4A East Central (10-2), which placed fifth last December, will face tournament newcomer 3A Marion (2-11) at 1 p.m. The Marion Giants are coached by Courtney Delks, formerly Courtney Moses, who was the 2010 Indiana Miss Basketball out of Oak Hill.
Both Evans and Greenfield-Central’s Madison Wise are considered candidates for this year’s coveted hoops award, making the tournament an ideal setting to state their case.
Ranked seventh in the nation in the Class of 2017, according to ESPN HoopGurlz, Evans, a point guard, is ranked third at her position and is averaging 34.4 points per game in her career.
She poured in a season-best 56 points against 4A Hammond Morton in her last game on Dec. 13 and was named a 2016 Indiana Junior All-Star core player along with Wise this past summer.
Ranked 45th in the nation by ESPN, Wise is 11th in the state in scoring, averaging 24.3 points per game. While listed as a wing, Wise, an Iowa State signee, has rotated into the point guard role while Ball State recruit Katie Helgason recovered from a torn ACL suffered in August.
Back after a little more than three months, Helgason has started the past two games after averaging 11.0 points, 4.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game as an Indiana Junior All-Star.
Her reinsertion into the Cougars lineup has pushed Wise back into her natural position and it showed during her 25-point night on Tuesday against Connersville in a 44-29 victory.
Wise scored a career-best 42 points against 4A Whiteland on Nov. 5 and is averaging 10.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists this season.
She continues to build upon the school’s career rebounding record at 898 and is second on the all-time scoring list at 1,742 — only 143 points from tying Ellen Hamilton (1,885).
“Her playing partner (Katie Helgason) since third grade is back. That makes her at ease, and she’s just a great kid that plays hard all the time,” Laker remarked. “I’m lucky to be able to coach her and Katie. It’s an absolute pleasure.”
The duo is eager to keep their team’s current two-game winning streak going and potentially achieve what no other group has been able to do in the tournament’s history.
“We’re really excited because we haven’t ever won it,” Wise said. “Some people have doubted us, but we know we have a lot of potential and we know if we play together we can win it.”
The Cougars have reached the tournament finals in each of the past two years, falling to Homestead in 2014-15.
“I told the girls, it’s Christmas break and you get to play basketball. Is there anything better?,” Laker said with a smile. “We’re definitely looking forward to it. You have to play three solid games to win it. We’ve gotten to the finals twice, but you can’t get there without winning the first game.”
Game 1: Richmond vs. Greenfield-Central, 10 a.m.
Game 2: Whitko vs. Gary West, 11:30 a.m.
Game 3: East Central vs. Marion, 1 p.m.
Game 4: East Chicago Central vs. Westfield, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 6 p.m.
Game 6: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 7:30 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 10 a.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 11:30 a.m.
Game 9: Loser Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6, 1 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 2:30 p.m.
Game 11: Loser Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 6 p.m.
Game 12: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 7:30 p.m.
Head Coach: Doug Laker (118-72 overall)
Breakdown: The Cougars are getting healthy and rediscovering their game with the return of 5-7 senior point guard Katie Helgason, who suffered a torn ACL in August…She is a Ball State recruit…The Cougars are riding a two-game winning streak after losing three straight…The Cougars have finished runner-up the past two years in their own tournament.
Head Coach: Brandon Bradley (79-70 overall)
Breakdown: The top-ranked Wildcats opened the season 10-0 and 6-0 against 3A and 4A foes…They are averaging 62.3 points per game and surrendering 44.8…They beat 4A No. 19 Warsaw 40-37 on Dec. 10…The Wildcats have won 51 games the past three seasons combined.
Head Coach: Casey Pohlenz (85-102 overall)
Breakdown: The Red Devils opened the year 0-5 before ending the drought against 4A Muncie Central 54-42 on Nov. 26…Richmond and Greenfield-Central are both in Sectional 9…The Red Devils have lost four straight while surrendering 53.8 points per game…Richmond was 8-14 last season.
Gary West (9-1)
Head Coach: Rodney Fisher (646-196 overall)
Breakdown: Rodney Fisher is in his 33rd year at the school with 527 victories…Fisher has amassed 646 career wins in 40 seasons overall…Since 1990, the Cougars have won 17 sectionals, including two in the past three years…Gary West is riding a five-game winning streak…They are averaging 73.8 points per game.
East Central (10-2)
Head Coach: Kevin Moore (116-50 overall)
Breakdown: The Trojans are working toward a seventh straight winning season…They finished 18-7 in 2015-16 and placed fifth in the Greenfield-Central Tournament a year ago…Their only losses this season are to Sectional 14 foe No. 12 Columbus North and 4A Columbus East.
Head Coach: Courtney Delks (1st season)
Breakdown: The Giants are coached by Courtney Delks, formerly Courtney Moses of Oak Hill, the 2010 Indiana Miss Basketball…Delks was a four-year starter at Purdue from 2010-14…She was a three-time All-Big Ten selection…Jessica Brown, a 2012 Indiana All-Star at Mt. Vernon is serving as an assistant coach.
East Chicago Central (8-4)
Head Coach: Eric Kundich (105-88 overall)
Breakdown: The Cardinals opened the season 5-0…Of their four losses, two were against 2A No. 1 Marquette Catholic on Dec. 10 and 3A No. 3 Heritage Christian on Nov. 26…They lost to Gary West, 84-73, last year in the Sectional 1 finals…The Cardinals are averaging 56.8 points per game and allowing 51.7.
Head Coach: Ginny Smith (26-11 overall)
Breakdown: After a 21-4 finish in 2015-16, the Shamrocks have had a difficult season with the graduations of Haliegh Reinoehl (Akron) and Allison Van Dyke (Eastern Illinois), among others…Opening the year 0-2, the team won four of five but have lost four of their last five since…two losses were to No. 3 Carmel and No. 4 Zionsville…the Shamrocks won the Cougars’ tournament last year.
Players to Watch
Greenfield-Central: Madison Wise (6-1, senior guard) is signed with Iowa State and is averaging 24.3 points per game, which is 11th best in the state. Wise was selected as a 2016 Indiana Junior All-Star core team member. A five-star recruit, she is ranked 45th in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz and 10th at her position.
Whitko: Aly Reiff (5-11, senior guard) leads the Wildcats in scoring (20.8 points per game), rebounds (6.3), steals (4.3), assists (6.3) and blocked shots (1.8). She signed her letter of intent to Xavier.
Richmond: Kalianna Luarderdale (5-6, junior guard) is averaging 14.2 points per game along with 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.4 assists. She posted a season-best 22 points against Franklin County on Dec. 6.
Gary West: Dana Evans (5-7, senior point guard) is signed with Louisville and is averaging a state-leading 37.0 points per game, 5.9 assists, 7.8 rebounds and 4.9 steals per contest. The five-star senior is ranked seventh in the nation by ESPN HoopGurlz and third at her position. She scored 56 points and had 14 rebounds in a 101-89 win against Hammond Morton on Dec. 13.
East Central: Courtney Robbins (6-1, junior wing) leads her team with 13.5 points per game and 6.7 rebounds. She averages 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks. She is shooting 48 percent from the field and scored a season-best 25 points against Richmond on Nov. 12.
East Chicago Central: Jenasae Bishop (5-8, junior guard) is averaging 25.4 points per game. She has recorded two 30-plus point game performances and posted a season-best 36 points against Lowell on Nov. 12. She is also averaging 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 4.3 assists per game. Bishop has gained interest from several Division I programs.