For 64 teams from across the nation, their final road leads to Valapariso University.
The Lutheran Basketball Association of America’s National Tournament of Champions commences today, and a pair of Jackson County programs are primed for competition.
St. John’s Sauers girls and Immanuel Lutheran’s boys eighth-grade teams — both reigning state champions — aim for glory on the grandest stage in their 32-team brackets.
Raiders focusing on the details
St. John’s Sauers girls team placed fifth at the LBAA last year, and for the fourth time in school history returns to Valpo as the state champs from Indiana.This morning, at 10:20 a.m., the Raiders open against Immanuel Lutheran of East Dundee, Illinois.
Should they win, the Raiders will take on the winner of St. Peter Lutheran (Macomb, Michigan) and Trinity Klein Lutheran (Spring, Texas) at 7 p.m. tonight.
Quarterfinals action will take place at 5:50 p.m. Saturday while the semis are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sunday before the championship at 3:30 p.m.
In 2017, these Raiders know what it’s like to play under the bright lights in front of the big crowds.
“Luckily, for our group, they’ve been there before,” Raiders assistant coach Greg Zabor said. “Every girl on the team has been to Valpo at least once — and that’s a huge advantage. We have really spent time talking about doing the little things, and managing the things we can control.”
Zabor said that the Raiders feel confident looking at schedule.
“We have looked at the brackets just to kind of see how things shake out,” he said. “I think the draw were pretty evenly spread from top to bottom. I think everyone has a very realistic chance to advance and do well if they play well.”
This past week, the Raiders switched-up their practices by inviting past players for scrimmages and drills.
The hope is that the stronger, bigger competition will ready the current Raider squad.
“We’ve done it the last couple years because we have such a long break from when state ends to now,” Zabor said. “Its been three weeks since a live game. Three of the girls on the team this year have older sisters who went to Valpo before. We bring them in a couple times and some of the 8th grade boys. That way they stay in game shape as best they can.”
For the Raiders, this is their version of March Madness.
“I’m really excited about the whole experience,” the Raiders’ Sydney Jaynes said. “I love this time of year. It’s basketball — doing what I love. I think we all need to step up our game just a little bit. We need to play to our ability, not to our competition.”
While the Raiders have reaped numerous accolades this season, they’re staying level-headed going into competition.
“(The coaches) have been telling us that it’s not going to be easy,” Raider Katherine Benter said. “We’re going to have to work hard in order to win. We’re going to have to do all the little things well. We’re going to have to rebound, shoot well and do everything we need to do.”
The Raiders have a lone national title, which they claimed in 2001 as they capped a perfect 28-0 season.
Warriors ready for battle
This time around, Immanuel Lutheran enters nationals with their first-ever state title.As the champs from The Hoosier State, the Warriors plan to represent.
“Being state champs, we have a little weight on our shoulders to prove Indiana is the state to beat,” Warriors coach Jim Hoffman said. “We have talked to teams from Michigan and other states, and they know that Indiana plays a little different down here. We want to play with that chip on our shoulder and edge. We’re very proud and happy to represent Indiana.”
The Warriors open at 12:55 p.m. today against Peace Lutheran from Saginaw, Michigan.
Should they win, the Warriors face the victor of St. Michael Lutheran (Fort Myers, Florida) and St. Marcus Lutheran (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) at 8:10 p.m.
Immanuel would play in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Saturday while the semifinals are planned for 10:20 a.m. Sunday which will be followed by the championship at 2:15 p.m.
Placing seventh among the field last season, Immanuel managed its best finish in school history at the tournament.
Like Sauers, Immanuel recently invited former players to practice with them.
“We know what to expect, so we’ve been scrimmaging some bigger, stronger kids in preparation,” Hoffman said. It’s great having the loyalty of our kids. We have kids coming back to help us, it makes us that much better. It’s fun to see that co-mingling.”
The Warriors have continued to focus on their defense going into nationals.
“We’re going to have to stop penetration in the middle,” Warrior Cole Schaefer said. “That’s our biggest weakness, I think. We have a a lot of ball handlers and big guys.
A team that likes to play fast, sharing the ball and attacking the rim has been a focus for the Warriors all season.
“We’ve been working on our plays,’ Warrior Kash Siefker said. “We need to make sure they’re down. It’s going to be faster paced. We’re unselfish. We like to share the ball and our assists average shows it.”
Hoffman hopes defense leads to offense this weekend.
“We’re allowing 27 points per game this year which is outstanding, but we still need to clamp down a little bit,” Hoffman said. “Defense is going to carry us through, and what kicks our offense. Defense is going to carry us through, and what kicks our offense.”
While some teams avoid looking at the competition, the Warriors have looked at every team in the draw.
“We have looked at pictures of every state champion, pulled up all the websites,” Hoffman said. “We’ve done the scouting. We know the shooters and stats. We know the teams from Missouri, California, Texas: all of them. We’re going to be prepared.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
What: The Lutheran Basketball Association of America’s National Tournament of Champions.
Who: Immanuel Lutheran’s eighth grade boys basketball team, St. John’s Sauers eighth grade girls basketball team.
When: Today, Saturday, Sunday.
Where: Valapariso University.
Watch: All games will be live streamed on LBAA.org. Brackets/tournament schedule are also on website.