Lady Lakers chart their own history with first sectional title in quarter century

February 11, 2021


They rallied. They hit a buzzer beater. They knocked off the defending state champion. In short, that’s the sectional week that was for the Lakeland Lady Lakers. In the end, they snapped a 25-year sectional title drought, as well.

“It felt amazing,” senior Bailey Hartsough tells “I think towards the end of the season, we’ve really focused on our defense; which helped us get the big sectional win.”

Lakeland pushed, battled and clawed their way to the 3A Wawasee Sectional 20 Championship on February 6. In the first round on February 2, the Lakers overcame a ten-point fourth-quarter deficit to Central Noble to win 62-56. In a nip-and-tuck sectional semi-final against West Noble on February 5, Madison Keil’s three-point buzzer beater lifted Lakeland to the sectional championship, 49-47. Lakeland ran away from defending 3A state champion NorthWood in the title game, giving Lakeland its first sectional title since 1996.

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Lakeland (20-7) finished fifth in the NECC standings, and fell to Angola in the NECC Tournament championship on January 16. Coaches and players admit the mettle of the conference slate prepared them for a strong postseason run.

“It’s everything we’ve worked for these past few years,” Keil says. “It definitely helps to play really good competition all season long. The NECC is super tough, and we had some losses. You just have to kind of have to learn from the losses, move on, and move forward.”

“It’s exciting for the community,” first-year head coach Dale Gearheart adds. “It’s a tight group and a bunch of really great young ladies." Gearheart inherited a team that went 15-9 last year and a 15-8 in 2018-19.


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Hartsough has anchored this era of Lady Lakers basketball. She has set the school records for career points (boys or girls), career rebounds, career blocks and career steals. She averages 17.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per game, as of the sectional final.

Gearheart adds: “My job was easier than normal—at least for this year—to continue that winning tradition.”

That winning tradition has spilled over to other girls sports at Lakeland, too. The volleyball team finished undefeated in conference play this past fall, winning the NECC regular season title for the first time since 1999, the girls golf team has won back-to-back NECC championships, and the softball team won a sectional title in the 2019 season (the 2020 season was canceled).

Hartsough (Western Carolina volleyball), Keil (Valparaiso women’s golf) and fellow senior Kierstin Roose (Coastal Carolina softball) – who opted not to play basketball this season, but stay on as a team manager - are all three NCAA Division I recruits who have helped change the landscape of Lakeland Lady Lakers athletics.

“The seniors have been together since fifth or sixth grade,” Hartsough adds. “We’re so close with each other. We goof around all the time. Sing in the locker room. Everyone loves each other.”


Lakeland remains in pursuit of the season record for wins (21), and will have a chance to tie and break the mark on Saturday, February 13, at the 3A Jimtown Regional. The Lakers face Griffith at 10:30 a.m. semi-final. The winner of that game will face the winner of the other semi-final between Kankakee Valley/South Bend Washington in the regional final. The regional title game is scheduled for 7:00 that night.

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