Trojans’ quest for respect starts in New Castle

In the past two years, the Center Grove girls basketball team has won 31 games and been among the area’s top Class 4A programs.

More importantly for the Trojans, they return four of five starters from last year’s 16-4 team and figure to be one of the state’s best in 2014-15.

Little wonder, then, that Center Grove is one of four teams selected to play in the 2014 City Securities Hall of Fame Classic, an honor that typically goes to teams projected to contend for state championships.

Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders isn’t looking that far down the road for next season, but he does view the prestigious Dec. 26 tournament at New Castle High School an ideal format to prepare the Trojans for what are nonetheless lofty ambitions.

“It’s such a great opportunity. If you want to win sectional and then get onto regional, it’s perfect preparation, and you’re playing against unbelievable opponents,” Sanders said. “All four teams are there for a reason. If you’re not completely prepared to come out and play, you can have two losses, just like that.

“You might lose only two games all season, and they could both happen on that same day.”

Yet the Trojans aren’t approaching the tournament with a passive mindset. Rather, they embrace it as a chance to enhance a resume that, for the moment, doesn’t reflect much in the way of championships.

Despite a 31-10 record the past two seasons, Center Grove has not won a sectional game or a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference title during that span. Last year’s Johnson County Tournament championship is its only hardware over the past two seasons.

“I know right now the girls are really hungry,” Sanders said. “I know that this tournament is going to be kind of validation of who they are, because their resume, as good as they’ve been, they really don’t have an unbelievable resume as far as championships.

“This is an opportunity for them to go out there and earn a little respect, leave a legacy at Center Grove, and then hopefully that will lead into maybe a MIC championship and sectional championship, as well.”

To earn that respect, the Trojans will first have to get past Mooresville, which is expected to return all five starters from last year’s 19-4 Mid-State Conference and sectional championship team. The Pioneers have won 19 or more games five of the past six seasons and have won six straight sectional titles.

The winner of the Center Grove/Mooresville game will meet the winner of the Heritage Christian/Gary West game.

Heritage Christian is expected to return four of five starters from last year’s 27-1 Class 2A state championship team. Gary West loses only one senior from last year’s 18-4 sectional championship team.

Fortunately for the Trojans, they expect to return starters Bri Gliesmann, Regan Wentland, Ali Line and Lauren Rau. Gliesmann, Wentland and Line will be seniors; Rau will be a junior.

Wentland and Rau were first-team members of the Daily Journal’s 2013-14 All-County Team. Gliesmann was an honorable-mention selection.

In total, the Trojans expect to return eight of last year’s 10 regular varsity players.

With the wealth of experience, Sanders is confident the Trojans — who will be making their third appearance in the Hall of Fame Classic since 1996 — can win the title. They won in 1996, the same year they won the IHSAA state championship, and were runners-up in 2000.

“Once you get there, you can’t be satisfied with being selected,” Sanders said. “The message we’re going to send to (players) is, being selected is an honor, but that’s not where it stops. We want to go there and compete. We want to be great. We want to get two wins there. Now, we’ve got to make sure we take pride in our preparation.

“So it’s a huge honor, a great opportunity, and at the same time something you know you’ve got to take seriously and prepare for.”

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What: City Securities Girls Hall of Fame Classic

When: Dec. 26

Where: New Castle High School

Games: 11 a.m., Center Grove vs. Mooresville; to follow, Heritage Christian vs. Gary West; 6:07 p.m., consolation game; to follow, championship game.