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There's no 'I' in Lake Central: Star-less Indians thrive as a team, not individuals


ST. JOHN – Pocket change isn’t what you’d expect for a high school basketball coach readying his team for a state championship game. Rather, it would seem that a roll of paper bills would be in the pocket of the person blowing the whistle every day.

Lake Central girls basketball coach Joe Huppenthal, however, has coined a coaching strategy for the past year that has his Indians about to play in the last game of the season Saturday night.

“I have to have a nickel and not five pennies,” Huppenthal said. “We don’t have one kid averaging double digits. They all have sacrificed stats for wins. They’ve bought into the team concept, and what can happen when you play as a unit.”

And he added, “I tell them every day, ‘Us is good enough.’”

The Indians (26-4) will battle Lawrence Central (29-1) at 7:15 on Saturday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“I love these girls, it’s like a sisterhood,” senior Aniyah Bishop said Tuesday. “We’ve all been together since the fourth grade and we’ve developed together as a unit. We all could score a lot if we were on other teams.

“But we would rather win.”

Bishop leads the team with a 9.5 points per game average. Junior Vanessa Wimberly is at 9.4. Senior Riley Milausnic, whose father Dave coached Lake Central to the 2014 Class 4A state final, is averaging 8.8. Junior Ayla Krygier is at 8.7. Senior Nadia Clayton is scoring 7.2 a game and classmate Kennedie Burks is at 5.2.

Not what you’d see on the SportsCenter highlights every night and even further away from what a few folks watched in the NBA All-Star Game recently.

But real basketball – team basketball – doesn’t need all the glitz and spotlights.

“It takes a team to get to a game like this,” Wimberly said. “And that’s what we are. A team.”

This team already played Lawrence Central this season. Lake Central lost 51-38 on Dec. 22. In that contest, the Bears' Jaylah Lampley, a 6-foot-1 junior, scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the victory. She averages 18 points a game.

Point guard Laila Abdurraqib is scoring 11 a game. So is Lola Lampley. Aniyah McKenzie checks in at 12.

So is Lake Central, who lost to Indy’s L.C. 39-38 in overtime last year, going to get double digit-ed?

“We’ve got the experience of playing them,” Bishop said. “They’re good. But so are we. The experience of playing against them already will help us navigate the game even better. We got close last year. (Huppenthal) told us all summer we’ve got to work if we want to win this game. He’s been drilling that in our heads. Work. Work. And work some more.”

And cash five individual pennies in at the bank to get a shiny new nickel.

Huppenthal has his pocket change ready to go. He said there are three keys that his team must master to win it all Saturday night.

“We have to keep them off of the offensive glass,” he said. “And we’ve got to take care of the basketball, handle their pressure. And we’re going to have to hit some shots. They are too good and too athletic, but we have a chance.

“My girls don’t fear anyone. We’ve played them so we know what we have to do in order to have success. We’re not going down there just to play a game. We’re going down there to win.”

This group of kids have been playing together since elementary school, the fourth grade, when Huppenthal took over the program eight years ago. It’s been a steady climb to the top in the northern part of the state.

Last season the Indians upset highly-ranked South Bend Washington in the semistate semifinal, but then lost to Fishers 41-24.

Close but no cigar.

And that’s when Huppenthal started to holler for a dollar.

“This has been a dream for us,” Clayton said. “We’ve come together as one.”

Lake Central will play Lawrence Central for the Class 4A state title Saturday in Indianapolis.

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