WINONA LAKE – One down, one to go for the Lakeland Christian girls basketball team.

The Lady Cougars’ first goal was to win the inaugural Hoosier Plains Conference title, and they did that by going undefeated in those four games. The next task has proven difficult since LCA joined the IHSAA: win a sectional game.

“We are officially conference champs as of (Jan. 20), and it was one of our season goals, so it is a good feeling,” coach Allison Kauffman said. “This is an exciting stepping stone to hopefully drive us harder to reach our bigger goals.”

With the way the draw worked out, the Lady Cougars could play for a sectional title. Five of the seven teams seem to be evenly matched, starting with host Bethany Christian at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Lady Bruins have two wins over LCA this season, by one point and nine points, respectively.

The team isn’t looking ahead, but with a win Tuesday the Lady Cougars would draw winless Hamilton, whom LCA beat 77-18 on Dec. 2.

“We drew Bethany Christian first round, so we definitely know what we have to do to get the win,” Kauffman said. “We’ve played them twice this season, and we are excited for the chance to play them again. In both games we played them, we had a chance to win the game. Hopefully we have learned from our mistakes and will be prepared.

“A key to every game we play is our defense, and we will need to come out with intensity. We will need to keep them off the boards and give ourselves second chances on our end. Offensively, we will need to take care of the basketball and execute. All year we have been looking at those ‘little things’ that we need to do be successful. The biggest key is to come out with confidence and stay mentally and physically tough, which has been our focus this year.”

While seniors Hope Fancil and Tori Calizo have provided scoring for the Lady Cougars, balance and putting together a team effort in every phase of the game has been a key for the upperclassman-laden squad.

“The girls have been doing a great job of working together and are continuing to build chemistry,” said Kauffman. “We have proved in multiple games that all of our girls can put the ball in the hole. Jess Slone and Brady Gross have been big for us on the inside with offensive rebounds and being able to finish. They clean up the boards on both ends and have shut down post players on the defensive end.

“Anna Reimink has been handling the ball very well. She can attack the basket past anyone and get her shot or find her teammate. She has been key defensively for us as she is able to shut down anyone. Hope and Tori  have been consistent threats for us, as their inside-outside game has produced for us. Defensively, I can put them on posts or guards and they both have been grabbing about six rebounds a game. Their versatility is key for us.”

Kauffman said a part of the team chemistry is gaining a feeling of family, warts and all.

“One thing I cherish about this team is the fact that these girls are family. We don't always get along, but at the end of the day it has been awesome to see how these girls stick together through everything and never give up on each other,” she said. “Each week they draw a name of someone from the team that they pray for, and it has been a blessing to see how these girls have grown.”

While there will be a new banner hanging in the Lakeland Christian gym soon, the Lady Cougars aren’t looking for just the one prize.

“We are definitely hungry for a win in the first round,” Kauffman said. “Our heart and desire will definitely be there.”