In the land of Hoosiers, a statewide travel limit keeps Indiana teams close to home, but it doesn't limit their success when they find the right formula of coach, star players and supporting cast.
Cases in point: South Bend Washington, Ben Davis and Heritage Christian.
The three Indiana powers-that-be for the 2008-09 season won't be able to visit the likes of Fab 50 preseason No. 1 St. Mary's (Stockton, Calif.) and are at the mercy of other top teams' travel schedules that might not include a trip to Indiana. Still, the trio is able to play No. 2 Bolingbrook from neighboring Illinois and a handful of regional powers each. The state association's by-laws limit travel to 300 miles one way from the state border, leaving locales such as New York, California and Texas -- home to many of the top teams -- out of the question.
Instead, they'll just try to prove their worth against common rivals and, for at least two of them, hope to face each other in the state title game.
Leading the way will be No. 13 South Bend Washington, which, despite losing three starters and having a new head coach in Maurice Scott, wants another shot at the 4A state title that it lost to Carmel 87-72 last year.
Scott isn't a stranger to the program, having coached the junior varsity team for the past six seasons. When longtime coach Marilyn Coddens became athletic director, Scott took over and promised a few changes.
"This year will be a little different style than last year," Scott said. "We play fast anyway, but we're going to be faster."
The Panthers' schedule is loaded up with December's T-Mobile Classic, January's McDonald's Classic in Chicago, Bolingbrook and Michigan's Detroit Community. But with this roster, including Scott's stepdaughter Skylar Diggins,
Scott is excited.
And don't think Scott is playing favorites with Diggins. The No. 3 recruit in the 2009 class, Diggins is also the country's top point guard and still deciding between Stanford, Notre Dame and Penn State. The 5-foot-8 Diggins has six fellow seniors on the team, including 6-1 forward Takoia Larry, a lefty and the team's No. 2 scorer, and Jasmine Watson, a 6-3 post who transferred during the summer.
Battling for a chance to meet the Panthers in the 4A state title will be the Fab 50's No. 19 Ben Davis, a power from Indianapolis that has produced two Parade All-Americans, including current WNBA player Shyra Ely, during coach Stan Benge's 20 seasons.
This year will be no different for the Giants, who have seniors Alex Bentley and De'Airra Goss, and junior star Dorothy Williams leading the team.
A 5-6 point guard, Bentley, who committed to Penn State this fall, is a likely finalist for Indiana's Miss Basketball, while Western Michigan-bound Goss was an all-state honorable mention and Williams has already given a verbal commitment to Purdue. Junior Vivian Holcomb, last season's leading rebounder, is also back giving Benge quite the talent pool.
"Almost every team has that exciting player that leads them," Benge said. "I think we have a few. We're going to be good. South Bend's won a state championship , and Heritage Christian has, too, so I think our kids might be a little hungrier."
Especially after last season, when the Giants lost to league rival Carmel, the eventual 4A champions, in the regional championship. They return every player from the 24-2 squad with their sights set on the state championship this year.
The third player in Indiana, Heritage Christian, is ranked No. 38 in the preseason poll and is the state's wild card team. With a dominant trio of seniors -- Connecticut-bound Kelly Faris, Bulter commit Claire Freeman and Emily Anderson, headed to Division II Hillsdale -- the Eagles play an independent schedule until heading into the Class 2A playoffs.
All-everything Faris, a 5-11 forward, is the star for the three-time 2A champions, while Anderson and Freeman, a pair of 5-9 guards, don't make life any easier if opponents somehow subdue Faris.
"They have been the core," coach Rick Risinger said. "Talented, smart, strong players have come and gone, but since they were freshmen into this year, the team's taken shape around their abilities and strengths."
In Risinger's three years at the helm, the Eagles are 78-7, including a 27-1 run last year. Kicking off their senior campaign Tuesday against Indianapolis' Northwest High School, the stage has been set for another strong season.
"We've played so competitively at the state level," Risinger said. "We play a difficult schedule. We're a small school, but very competitive."
The Eagles play both Illinois powers -- Bolingbrook and No. 18 Whitney Young -- this season as well as Wisconsin's Rufus King and powerful in-state programs Carmel and Penn.
It can be tough, and not just for the small schools, to be noticed on the larger stage. But that doesn't mean these teams aren't just as talented as others around the country. They just can't travel and show the rest of the country.
"I think it hurts," Scott said. "Indiana is really good, but it's hard to see how good since we don't get to travel and compete."
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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and can be reached at email@example.com.