Marquette Catholic girls basketball

The Marquette Catholic girls basketball team celebrates after winning the Class 1A state title on Feb. 24, 2018. The Blazers begin their title defense on Jan. 29.

The Marquette Catholic girls basketball team plays with a target on its back. It’s been that way all season.

That’s the nature of being the defending Class 1A state champion, Blazers head coach Katie Collignon said. She and her players have come to expect the best out of their opponents every night because of the bragging rights that come with knocking off the state’s best.

That won’t change in the postseason, which begins Jan. 29. The sectional pairings were announced Sunday and Marquette Catholic open against 21st Century. Collignon said it will be business as usual for the Blazers as they mount their title defense at home in Sectional 49.

“We know what it takes to get to a state championship,” Collignon said. “I think we’re just as hungry to get there this year as we were this time last year. The girls have left a legacy at Marquette, especially the seniors, and they want their senior years to be their best years.”

Marquette Catholic (17-2) spent the entire season ranked No. 1 overall in the state among 1A schools. The Blazers’ lone loss to an Indiana opponent came in their opening game against Class 4A North Central by just two points. The other defeat came Jan. 12 against Chicago's Simeon.

The Blazers graduated just two seniors from last year’s championship team and essentially have the same identity. Seniors Emma and Sophia Nolan continue to lead the way, averaging 40 points per game between them.

“I’m excited to see how the girls react to the pressure,” Collignon said. “When our seniors made it to semistate (as sophomores) you could tell we were all just really nervous. This year, we’ll have a different mindset just being more confident knowing what it takes.”

Times No. 10 Morgan Township (12-7) figures to have a say in whether or not Marquette Catholic makes another run. The Cherokees and Blazers highlight one of three sectionals with multiple teams ranked in The Times Top 10. Four of the six schools in Sectional 49 come from the Porter County Conference.

“With Marquette hosting and being the defending state champions I guess everyone will expect them to be the favorites,” Morgan Township head coach Scott Adams said. “But there’s a lot of familiarity with everyone in our bracket and you never know come this time of year.”

Other sectional notes:

• Times No. 1 and undefeated Crown Point (22-0) drew Lowell (8-11) in the opening game of Class 4A Sectional 1 to be played Jan. 30 at Lowell. Times on-the-bubble teams E.C. Central (11-9) and Munster (13-8) loom elsewhere in the bracket. The Bulldogs have been in just three games decided by seven points or less.

• Times No. 3 Kankakee Valley (17-3) and No. 4 Michigan City (15-4) wound up on opposite sides of Class 4A Sectional 2 at Merrillville. The earliest they’d meet is in the championship game.

• Times No. 5 Bishop Noll (17-4) and No. 9 Andrean (13-10) could meet in the semifinals of Class 2A Sectional 33 at Bowman Academy.

• Times No. 6 LaPorte (14-6) drew a buy in Class 4A Sectional 3 but may end up facing undefeated Penn (20-0), which is currently ranked No. 3 in the state by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, come the finals. The Slicers lost the regular-season matchup against Penn by 11. It was the first game of the season for both teams.