WINONA LAKE – Last season, Lakeland Christian Academy’s girls basketball team fell four points short of claiming its first sectional title, losing 41-38 to Lakewood Park in the title game.

It’s no surprise the Lady Cougars have been focused on the Class 1A Fremont Sectional all season long. LCA opens the tournament at 7 p.m. Tuesday against the host Lady Eagles.

“From the beginning of the season the girls have had their eyes on the sectional,” said head coach Allison Kauffman. “Throughout the season, through the ups and downs, we have focused on our journey together and how moments throughout the season are preparing us for the tournament.

“Our sectional is going to be very exciting this year. Looking at each team’s individual results shows that. All the teams have some great talent and it will come down to who executes and stays confident. We are excited for another opportunity, as last year we fell short by a small margin.”

Junior Tori Calizo paces the Lady Cougar offensive attack, averaging nearly 12 points a game. This year her sister, freshman Jessi Calizo, is helping out with seven points a game. Senior Anna Reimink averages eight points a game, and the trio accounts for close to 75 percent of LCA’s points. But it’s the contributions from others, like seniors Abigail Fishel, Maddie Paris and Carly O’Hara, that help keep the pressure off the Calizo sisters and Reimink.

“We have challenged everyone this year to be a threat on offense, and we have had everyone step up and shoot more this year,” Kauffman said.

“Anna has done a great job running the point guard position, but also looking to attack the basket more. Having Tori, Anna, and Jessi able to attack off the dribble but also be able to shoot from the outside has had a great impact on our offense this year. Abigail and Maddie offer depth to our outside shooting as well, and it has been fun to see the girls gel on offense.”

As any basketball fan knows, rebounding is a key to success. The Lady Cougars average about 30 boards a game, and Kauffman said that comes from putting in the effort.

“We do not have the size that we have had the last few years. We have focused a lot in practice on rebounding and getting good positioning,” Kauffman said. “I reiterate to my girls that rebounding is mostly heart and effort, and they have done a great job getting after the rebounds.

“We always talk about how boxing out is one of those things that doesn’t go in the stat book, but is pivotal to help us reach our goals.”

Kauffman is in her fourth year as LCA’s coach, providing stability and consistency for the program. Under her leadership, the Lady Cougars have won at least 12 games each season, including this one; arguably the most successful stretch of girls basketball in school history. The stability has allowed the team to flourish and gain an “all for one, one for all” attitude.

“This has been such a fun group of girls to coach. We have a great group of selfless senior leaders who set the example by working hard,” Kauffman said. “This team has more chemistry than any other team I have coached. Their teamwork and heart they put on the floor each day is going to take them far on and off the court.”

With a win Tuesday, LCA would face Elkhart Christian Academy in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday. The Lady Cougars took a 37-35 win over ECA back on Nov. 17.

On the other side of the bracket, Fort Wayne Blackhawk and Lakewood Park square off at 6 p.m. Wednesday, followed by Hamilton and Bethany Christian. Wednesday’s winners will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The title game will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.