By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Monday was supposed to be a tone-setting day for the Anderson girls basketball team.
The Lady Tribe was set to watch film of Lawrence North, Saturday's regional opponent at Decatur Central and the top-ranked team in the state, and begin the mental preparation for the next challenge.
Instead, Mother Nature intervened. Again.
"That's the way we've set the tone all year," Anderson coach Chad Cook said. "It's always been about weather reports. That's the way it's been all year."
At Shenandoah, Chelsea Kilian and her Raiders understand the feeling.
A wintry mix poured down over much of central Indiana on Monday, calling an early end to the school day and cancelling practices. For the recently crowned sectional champions, that meant finding alternative means to prepare for this weekend's big games.
"We're used to having an inconsistent schedule at this point," Kilian said. "The kids are resilient. I'm sure they're at home watching film right now. If they can't get on the court, they'll prepare any way they can."
The snowiest winter on record has given birth to all manner of improvisation.
Anderson (19-4) and Shenandoah (16-4) have navigated the rough terrain better than most. The Indians survived a thrilling Class 4A sectional final with a 43-41 win against Mount Vernon at Connersville on Saturday, while the Raiders crushed Frankton 65-40 in a Class 2A title game on their home court.
Both teams face big obstacles in the next round. And they don't come much bigger than Anderson's next opponent.
Lawrence North (23-1) has been a state championship favorite all season and routed the Lady Tribe 84-45 on Nov. 20. But that result only has the Indians more excited for the rematch.
"That's one we would have done over right after it happened," Cook said. "I'm glad we get the chance to do it now."
The question is whether Anderson will face the Wildcats at full strength. Chelsea Bentley suffered an ankle injury during Wednesday's opening round, and Ania Daniels was lost to a head injury in Friday's semifinals.
"We're praying they'll be back," Cook said. "They very easily could be missing, and we very easily could be playing with them. We have to wait and see what the doctors say. We need to be firing on all cylinders. With the heart of these girls, anything is possible."
Shenandoah has no such health concerns.
But the task ahead is equally daunting. The Raiders open play at Lapel on Saturday with a 10 a.m. tipoff against fifth-ranked Tipton (16-4).
The schools did not meet during the regular season, but the Blue Devils will enter as strong favorites. In the second semifinal, No. 4 Wabash (19-3) faces Southmont (14-9).
"I think our regional is pretty tough," Kilian said. "We'll put a lot of focus on (Tipton), but we know if we can get past them we've got another tough game coming up."
The Raiders upset ninth-ranked Lapel in the sectional semifinals and showed they could refocus quickly with the big win against Frankton a night later. Now the challenge becomes maintaining that hunger after getting a taste of cutting down the nets in postseason play.
"Coach (Todd) Salkoski had a chance to talk to the team last week, and he reminded the girls that the sectional is not the end of the season," Kilian said. "It's the beginning of a new one."
That's a lesson Kilian learned well as a player under Salkoski — now Shenandoah's athletic director — during state championship runs in 2003 and 2005. She likes the fight she sees in the current Raiders.
"We've got a group of competitors," she said. "They're going to compete no matter what."
That same character trait could serve Anderson well Saturday.
In addition to Lawrence North, the regional at Decatur Central includes eighth-ranked Mooresville (19-3) and highly regarded Pike (18-8). It's a field loaded with talent — all four teams are placed in the top 13 of Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings — and it promises to make for an outstanding tournament.
"Nobody has an easy game," Cook said. "We have the toughest one, but we're not going to go out quietly."