Division 2 District preview: Eddies favored to defend title

Published 5:41 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

EDWARDSBURG — Host Edwardsburg will be looking to win its fifth straight Division 2 District championship when the girls basketball tournament begins Monday.

The Eddies won the 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2018 district titles. There was no state tournament in 2019 due to COVID-19.

Joining Edwardsburg in the opening round of the state tournament will be Dowagiac, which won the Berrien Springs District championship last season, snapping a 14-year drought, Benton Harbor, Niles and Berrien Springs.

The Eddies (15-7) and Niles played a pair of Lakeland Conference games during the regular season, with Edwardsburg winning both games handily.

Benton Harbor swept Dowagiac in a pair of Lakeland Conference games despite having played without Central Michigan University-bound Desrae Kyles missing the second game with an injury. Kyles has not played for the Tigers in more than a month, and it is unknown if she will be available for the state tournament.

Edwardsburg Coach Jon Pobuda, who recently won his 200th career game, feels his team has played a strong schedule in 2022-23, which has prepared his team for the postseason.

Those games include a loss to No. 3-ranked (Division 3) Buchanan (18-1), Wolverine games with No. 7-ranked Vicksburg (22-0) Plainwell, Three Rivers and Otsego, as well as a non-conference game against Indiana’s Elkhart Central.

“Keys to winning the district tournament is to play our style and execute defensively,” he said.

The Eddies are led by Averie Markel, who is averaging 9.7 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Pobuda said Benton Harbor and Dowagiac are the biggest challenges the Eddies face in the district.

Berrien Springs (7-13) will open the district tournament against Benton Harbor at 7 p.m. Monday.

The Shamrocks were swept by Benton Harbor and Dowagiac in Lakeland Conference games during the regular season. Berrien Springs did defeat Niles in December.

The winner advances to take on the Eddies at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Dowagiac (11-10) will be facing Niles (0-20) for the second time in six days as the Chieftains defeated the Vikings 52-34 to end the regular season for both squads.

Dowagiac Coach Jason Turner said that the schedule the Chieftains faced this season has helped prepare them for a run at the school’s first-even back-to-back district titles.

Dowagiac played two games against ranked Buchanan, and two games against No. 11-ranked Brandywine. The Chieftains took leads into the fourth quarter in both contests with the Bobcats before falling.

Dowagiac will enter the postseason on a three-game winning streak, which includes a 36-35 win over Lakeshore.

“Our keys to winning a district championship are going to be our defense and our ability to possess the ball offensively and not turn it over,” Turner said.

The Chieftains are led by Alanah Smith, who is averaging 11 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Maggie Weller is a tick behind Smith, as the point guard is averaging 10.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Turner believes the defending champions are the team to beat.

“We cannot overlook any team, but I believe that a lot of people will be looking at Edwardsburg,” he said.

Niles Coach Jessica Johnson knows it has been a tough season for her team, but she believes the talent is there to compete in the postseason.

“Our girls have the tools to be a threat on the court,” she said. “Now they have to implement those tools throughout the game in order to compete for the district championship.”

Niles is led by Amirah Lee, who is averaging 5.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Elly Matlock is averaging 5.3 and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Vikings.

Johnson is not worried about the other teams in the tournament field. She is focused only on one squad.

“We are our biggest challenge,” she said. “Believing in ourselves and each other will be the fuel that we need to play to the best of our abilities for a solid 32 minutes.”

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