Chesterton at Valparaiso girls basketball

Valparaiso's Taelynn Oelling, center, tries to hand the ball off to teammate Ariana Gerdt while under pressure from Chesterton's defense Friday in Valparaiso.

Kale Wilk, The Times

VALPARAISO — Gotta love Friday nights in the state of Indiana, right?

The pep band was rocking. The dance team was synchronized and awesome. Both student sections were loud and having fun, watching rivals run up and down a basketball court chasing an orange ball.

Such a scene has been happening in Valparaiso since Beulah Bondi was watching peach-bucket hoops in green over a century ago.

The atmosphere at VHS was extraordinary as The Times No. 1 Chesterton Trojans brought their undefeated record into No. 8 Valpo's Viking Gym.

Yes, Valpo had won seven straight games against the Trojans going back to 2012, but Vikings coach Candy Wilson knew the way Jack Campbell's team had been playing that this one would be tougher than all the others.

So legendary program player Alana Hancock (Harrington) was introduced before the home crowd before tipoff.

"When I played at Chesterton she probably stole the ball from me 50 times," Wilson laughed after being congratulated by Hancock after Valpo's 65-55 win. "Look at this crowd, feel this atmosphere, this is the old rivalry."

The first half wasn't vintage Valpo basketball, it was textbook high school hoops, as the Vikings jumped out to an early 16-point lead by playing great defense and using their size to stifle Chesterton's offense.

But Valpo's passing was incredible. Nearly every basket in the first 16 minutes of play was a wide open shot. Were the Vikes hot? Absolutely. But when the extra pass takes place on every possession the shooting percentage goes up. Through the roof.

Valpo had nine assists in the first half in taking a 42-30 lead.

"We were seeing each other well," Valpo senior Ariana Gerdt said after scoring 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. No typo here, this scoring line is correct.

"This team is very unselfish," she continued. "We played very good team basketball."

This Valpo team is also very tall. Gerdt is one of four 6-foot players on the varsity roster. Along with junior Jessica Gast, junior Taylor Zimmerman and senior Taelynn Oelling.

Many programs in the Region have been shortened by full-year volleyball being played by a lot of student-athletes. Wilson has been able to keep her skyscrapers on the basketball floor.

"I know I never had four 6-footers when I was at Boone Grove," Wilson said with a laugh.

Gerdt said she can't remember the first time she shot a basketball, because she's been doing it almost since birth. Her parents, Kevin and Julie, taught her the game almost before she learned how to tie her shoes.

She looked up to hometown hero Robbie Hummel and went to several of the Purdue and NBA player's camps.

There is something special about this Vikings team, which hasn't won a sectional championship since 2005. And this year won't be easy because Chesterton is in the field and those Trojans are very, very good.

Either they had a bad night or Valpo made them play bad.

It might take another clash between these two powers to figure which is those possibilities is true.

"We knew this game was going to be tough," Gerdt said. "This was pretty big. We knew they weren't going to come in here light-hearted. We knew they were going to give us their all."

The "Meet the Vikings" night concluded after the big victory with all the players sitting at tables signing autographs for the little girls who came out to watch the game and cheer their heroes on.

Some things never change.

Gotta love Friday nights in Valparaiso, Indiana, right?

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This column solely represents the writer’s opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

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Sports reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.