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Moving up in class: Hanover Central boys look ahead to the challenge of the Northwest Crossroads

Column By Steve Hanlon

CEDAR LAKE – There are more than a few construction trucks in Cedar Lake these days. And the engines are running hot in all of them in one of the fastest growing school districts in Indiana.

Hoosier Home-steria, indeed.

Building homes at a record pace. Tossing up subdivisions like that. Businesses are popping up like popcorn on steroids. The homestead now has a Taco Bell and a Culver’s.

The postcard little village is alive and kicking like never before.

On Tuesday night at Hanover Central High School, it was Brad Stangel wearing the yellow hard hat on a frigid night letting everyone know one thing.

It is basketball season.

“We’re excited,” Stangel said after his Wildcats pounded Westville 75-45 to open the season. “We like what we’re building here.”

This is Stangel’s third season at HC. After leading one of the Region’s hoop powers at Andrean, winning the Class 2A state championship in 2019, he dribbled his ball onto 133rd Avenue and went 9-14 in his first season here. Things improved to 16-10 last winter.

And now, there is a strong opportunity for this to be a breakout season which could be followed by, hmm, let’s leave that out there for now. The Wildcats have nine juniors on the roster, led by Top 100 post Brad Rhode. The 6-foot-5 standout scored 25 points and grabbed 18 rebounds against the Blackhawks, who were without three of their top players who had some height.

Still, he was very good.

In the fall, Hanover’s football team shocked many by going undefeated in the bigger, tougher Northwest Crossroads Conference in the school’s first season in the NCC. Beating up on the smaller Greater South Shore Conference teams is no more.

The new stage is bigger and the lights are much brighter.

So can Hanover hoops follow football’s success?

“We showed (Tuesday) we can score efficiently when we run our offense,” Rhode said. “We have things we need to clean up and I believe we will. We know a lot of people are counting us out competing in the (NCC). But we know we have a good group here.”

Rhode is getting attention from Cincinnati, Butler and Western Michigan. But it’s for baseball. He wants to pitch at the next level. I’ve been doing this long enough that if Rhode didn’t own a glove folks would be lining up to him to play basketball as well.

He is that good. But he is not alone.

Stangel has a lot of depth. This team has size and athleticism. Junior Max Wiancek added 18 points on Tuesday night and Henry Maurer chipped in 10 in the win.

“We enjoyed playing in the GSSC,” Stangel said. “But we feel we can play in the NCC. We did pretty well with them last year.”

Last season Hanover beat Highland (55-39), Lowell (56-42) and Kankakee Valley (65-31) in what were then non-conference battles. And they lost to Hobart (46-37) and local power Munster (60-48), in a game that went down to the wire.

This year these games will mean more. And don’t be surprised if these Wildcats are competing for conference titles in the very near future.

The construction site is not completed yet. But it is getting close, closer than many may think.

“I need to give (Rhode) credit,” Stangel said. “Sometimes it’s harder to play against smaller guys. But he held his own. We need to keep working on getting him the ball in the post. Often you have a split second to get the ball inside and we were a little slow.

“We have a very good balance. We have more guys who do more things. We just have to stay together and keep working.”

Any chance y'all could put in a Chick-fil-A after today’s practice?

Five different Wildcats nailed a 3 against Westville. Rhode had one. Gage Rodriguez added one, Wiancek had another, Maurer had two and Luke Ondo had one. There are shooters on this roster.

Which had me scratching my bald head when this talented team went 23-of-37 from the free throw line in the opener. To win the NCC, perimeter shooting will need to improve as will dropping in dimes at the charity line at a higher rate.

But work in progress, right? Stangel stated that Hanover shot 47 percent from the free throw stripe as a team last season.

This team has a chance to win the NCC.

Just put on the safety helmets and steel-toed boots every day at practice, work hard and believe that something special can be constructed this winter.

“We haven’t talked about the new conference too much yet,” Stangel said. “When the calendar turns, we’ll get to that.”

In 30 years of covering sports in Indiana, I saw a ton of great NCC games. One thing Hanover needs to do is get more volume inside the gymnasium. The fans need to get off their backsides and cheer on this team at a louder level.

On Feb. 20, this newbie program will travel to Munster and you’ll see what NCC fan bases and home games are all about.

Wildcat fans, it’s time for all of you to start putting in some work, too.

Brad Rhode of Hanover Central contests a shot by

Westville's Jack Stacy in Tuesday's season opener.

Rhode had 25 points to go with 18 rebounds in the

75-45 win. (Photo by Grace Hanlon)

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