SOUTH WHITLEY – The good news for the Whitko girls basketball team is it drew a first-round bye in this week's Class 2A Central Noble Sectional. But head coach Rick Bragg knows from there it gets a lot tougher to get from the semifinal round to the title game in Albion Saturday.

"The consensus from everyone was to draw away from the undefeated and defending state champions, Central  Noble," said Bragg. "We will probably see them in the semifinals on Friday evening."

The sectional host Lady Cougars, the top-ranked team in 2A, will need to claim a third win this season over Westview to advance to the semifinal. Central Noble also owns a 49-point win over Whitko in the Lady Wildcats' second game of the season. But rather than be intimidated, Bragg said his squad is looking to face the likely challenge head-on.

"I spoke to the seniors about how they want to approach a potential matchup with them," he said "I told them we could play to win or play not to lose. Our seniors want to play to win and I so much value that mentality. Is it a tall task to try and compete with them? Of course it is. But if the favored team always wins, what is the use in working and learning to compete?

"We will have a game plan in place, show up, and play to the best of our ability, which is what we have been doing all season."

Whitko is led by seniors Emalee Duggins, Ellie Snep, Sarah Hewitt and Kayla Schipper. The four of them account for 95 percent of the Lady Wildcat scoring. Duggins averages about a dozen points a game, and Snep averages a double-double of about 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Duggins and Snep, who also catch and pitch, respectively, on the softball team, have been close for most of their lives.

“Ellie and Emi have been best friends since elementary school. There is no question this friendship carries over into their athletic endeavors. Without question, what they offer athletically to the basketball team has helped us grow the past two seasons,” Bragg said.

“What they also provide is leadership to our younger players. Most importantly, they serve as ambassadors and role models to not only the basketball program, but Whitko High School.”

Possibly the greatest challenge for the Lady Wildcats is depth. The roster has just eight players, meaning fatigue becomes an issue in nearly every game and practice time has been creative, even going to a method seen in the motion picture “Hoosiers.”

“While we have tried to not use our lack of depth as an excuse, it is an issue,” admitted Bragg. “I’ve never seen a harder working group of student-athletes. Many games we have only had five healthy players, and have played the fourth quarter with four players.

“Where we really feel the lack of participation is in practice. We can’t emulate what our opponent is going to do or put five players on the floor as a ‘scout team.’ So even though we work on defensive and offensive strategies, there are only so many things we can do. We use managers, ball carts, chairs, to serve as the defense we know we are going to face, but this does not come anywhere close to emulating a game situation.”

Still, the Lady Wildcats did manage to win a couple of conference games, and all building blocks help.

“Any time you win it helps the confidence of our players, so the TRC wins have been nice,” said Bragg. “The other confidence builder has been the fact that other than in the Northfield game in which we were beaten pretty bad, we have competed in the losses. While we don’t believe in moral victories, progress is being made despite what the scoreboard says many times.”