Chesterton Trojans

Coach: Jack Campbell, 32nd season

Last season: 11-12 (2-5 Duneland Athletic Conference)

2019 postseason: Lost 29-24 to Michigan City in Class 4A Merrillville Sectional first round.

Top returning players: Ashley Craycraft, Sr., G (13.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg), Nalani Malackowski, Sr., G (6.2 ppg, 1.9 apg), Emma Schmidt, Jr., G/F (4.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg).

What you should know

Like most of the league, Chesterton's strength lies on the perimeter. Craycraft was one of the Duneland Athletic Conference's top scorers a year ago, and Campbell noted he likes playing two point guards at once with Craycraft and Malackowski.

That two-point guard system could help establish a more consistent offense, as Chesterton was one of the Region's streakiest teams last year. The Trojans won their first six before losing the next six, and they'll have more veteran ball-handlers this season.

Chesterton will miss Marney Sisson, however, who was one of the league's top rebounders at 8.8 per game last season. Schmidt will move into a starting role after serving as the top bench option a year ago, but the Trojans have two more starting spots to fill.

The good news is they've got time to figure that out. The DAC schedule is backloaded, with games against the projected top four of Crown Point, Portage, Merrillville and LaPorte all coming in December or January.

Crown Point Bulldogs

Coach: Chris Seibert, fifth season

Last season: 28-1 (7-0 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 61-28 to Hamilton Southeastern in Class 4A LaPorte Semistate

Top returning players: Jessica Carrothers, So., G (21.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 4.7 steals), Abby Stoddard, Sr., F (9.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Lilly Stoddard, So., C (5.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.4 blocks), Alyna Santiago, Jr., G (6.7 ppg, 4.2 spg).

What you should know

Crown Point is one of the state's top teams and now has the schedule to match. Seibert said the Bulldogs flipped seven games from their 2018-19 schedule to try to challenge the team as much as possible, and a trip to the Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle doesn't hurt.

The atmosphere in New Castle should help prepare CP for the postseason, and the Bulldogs could see fellow Class 4A contender Penn in their second game.

“I just think it's an experience that they'll never forget,” Seibert said of the Hall of Fame Classic. “It really epitomizes what Indiana high school basketball is all about.”

CP has a stud transfer of its own in former West Side guard Dash Shaw, a perfect fit for Seibert's pressing defense. Allie Govert will be the first player off the bench, and Seibert plans to use an eight-player rotation.

“(Govert) was tremendous for us down the stretch last year and has had a great offseason and really improved,” Seibert said.

Lake Central Indians

Coach: Joe Huppenthal, fourth season

Last season: 9-14 (2-5 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 38-25 to EC Central in Class 4A Lowell Sectional first round

Top returning players: Allie Mularski, Sr., F (6.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Tiana Morales, Jr., G (3.0 ppg, 1.8 apg), Aubrey Rowser, Sr., G/F (2.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

What you should know

Lake Central has been decimated by injuries in the preseason, as leading returning scorer Taylor Jaksich has a torn ACL, Julia Nawrot broke a foot and Amanda Blevins is out as well. Starting point guard Tiana Morales went down in LC's final preseason scrimmage. Also, starter Sara Zabrecky transferred to Munster.

It couldn't come at a worse time, as LC plays Benton Central, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern and Penn in the first two weeks of the season.

“I'm really worried about it, because you can get through a couple injuries, but we're at a point where it has become concerning,” Huppenthal said. “You're playing four teams right off the get-go that … are in the upper echelon of girls basketball. We're gonna find out real quick where we're at.”

Huppenthal said Essence Johnson had a good offseason and can step in for Morales but will have to play in front court, too. LC will have to fast-track younger players' development.

“We're having to throw young kids into the fire right now that we weren't really expecting to be in the positions they are right now,” Huppenthal said.

LaPorte Slicers

Coach: Rob Walker, sixth season

Last season: 16-8 (4-3 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 55-33 to Penn in Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional final

Top returning players: Ryin Ott, Jr., F (15.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 40% from 3), Nyla Asad, Sr., G (5.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg), Kayla Jones, Sr., G (6.7 ppg, 3.5 apg, 2.7 spg)

What you should know

The Slicers may have lost Indiana All-Star guard Riley Ott, but her younger sister Ryin is ready to lead the way.

Ryin Ott nearly averaged a double-double as a sophomore last season, shot 40% from 3 and totaled more than one steal and block per game to boot. She projects as one of the Region's top players and will have plenty of help.

LaPorte returns quality guard play with Asad, Jones and Lanti Biggers, so feeding Ott shouldn't be an issue. If the Slicers' guards can improve from beyond the 3-point line, Ott will have a ton of space to work with.

Six of LaPorte's first seven games come away from home, but the Slicers' returning talent makes them a candidate to get out to a fast start. Early games against Penn and Munster mean they'll be tested heading into the DAC season.

Merrillville Pirates

Coach: Amy Govert, 15th season

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Last season: 11-12 (3-4 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 59-41 to Portage in Class 4A Merrillville Sectional first round

Top returning players: Torri Miller, Jr., G (10.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.7 spg), Micah Grady, Jr., G (5.4 ppg), Cailynn Dilosa, Jr., G (1.4 ppg)

What you should know

Merrillville showed flashes last season with three DAC wins and an overtime loss at LaPorte, and the Pirates return the vast majority of their roster. They're guard-heavy and have an army of quick athletes, which Govert said will cause problems for opposing offenses.

Miller is the leading returning scorer and pestered ball-handlers all last season, but Grady, Dilosa and Davina Smith have been three of the most improved players this offseason, according to Govert.

"There's gonna be some names that people are surprised about," Govert said.

Merrillville will play small, but the Pirates are so active defensively that they have the personnel to do so.

Shekinah Thomas led Merrillville in scoring over the summer but is battling an injury — Govert said she expects Thomas to play this season. In the meantime, the Pirates should have the depth and chemistry to hold the fort.

“They became a lot closer as a team," Govert said. "Our best teams we've had in the past have been very close, didn't care who scored and were happy for each other."

Michigan City Wolves

Coach: Mike Megyese, 11th season

Last season: 20-5 (6-1 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 61-59 to Kankakee Valley in Class 4A Merrillville Sectional final

Top returners: Trinity Thompson, Jr., F (9.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.2 spg, 3.6 apg), Katelyn Halfacre, Jr., G (10.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.2 spg).

What you should know

It might not be possible to fill the shoes of graduated 6-foot-5 center Hannah Noveroske, who's now at Indiana. But Trinity Thompson will try her best.

Megyese said Thompson is one of the five best players in the Region after scoring 23 points per game this summer. She already showcased one of the most versatile skill sets around last season in playing both forward spots and is hard to stop in the post.

“She's the real deal,” Megyese said. “When she catches the ball, she's so physically strong that we feel we have another Hannah — just not 6-foot-5.”

Thompson will share the load with Halfacre, who had an underrated 2018-19 season as a smart, play making guard. Megyese said the Wolves started the offseason with 12 varsity players but are down to seven now after various injuries and departures.

With all the changes, this has been City's first week of practice with the roster it will start the season with.

“We've got a lot of inexperience,” Megyese said.

Portage Indians

Coach: Marc Bruner, fifth season

Last season: 12-14 (2-5 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 73-56 to Michigan City in Class 4A Merrillville Sectional semifinals

Top returners: Kristen Cravens, Sr., G/F (9.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 38% from 3), Troilisia Lacey, Sr., G (5.2 ppg, 3.1 apg), Jordan Barnes, Jr., G/F (7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.7 spg).

What you should know

Portage brings back nearly its entire team from last season and will be among the most skilled groups in the Region. Cravens is a dangerous shooter who expects to make more than 40% of her 3-point attempts this season, and the Indians have a bit more size than in recent seasons.

Lacey is the consummate point guard, and Barnes scored 16 points in the Indians' opening win over Andrean. Portage is deep and doesn't have many players that opposing defenses can play off of.

The tests start coming before the end of November: In addition to the Andrean game, Portage plays Bishop Noll and Michigan City in the next three weeks.

“Because we're deep, because we think we have some talent, we've got to be able to keep doing the things that we can do well: share the basketball, not be afraid of who gets the glory on a particular night,” Bruner said. “We can play some different lineups depending on what we want to do against an opponent.”

Valparaiso Vikings

Coach: Candy Wilson, sixth season

Last season: 9-14 (2-5 DAC)

2019 postseason: Lost 63-57 to Kankakee Valley in Class 4A Merrillville Sectional first round

Top returners: Aleah Ferngren, Sr., G (9.3 ppg, 2.6 apg, 3.3 spg), Kiana Oelling, Jr., G (8.3 ppg, 81% FT), Sarah Douglas, Sr., G (5.8 ppg)

What you should know

The Vikings bring back four of their top five scorers and finished 8-8 in their last 16 games last season after a rough start. Like many of their DAC counterparts, they'll be playing smaller after losing Jessica Gast and Taylor Zimmerman to graduation.

Valparaiso's experience in the backcourt will be an advantage, however. Wilson said there's less adjustment now that players like Ferngren and Oelling have been in her system for multiple years, and the offense flows smoothly as players know how to react to defenses.

“They know how to play the game of basketball as far as running a continuous pattern,” Wilson said.

Wilson said Valpo's next step will be optimizing lineup combinations. The Vikes have multiple capable shooters, and Ferngren has taken the next step after leading the team in scoring and assists last year.

“She's really kind of taken the helm,” Wilson said. “She's one of our captains, she's a team leader. I think she's more comfortable with everything we do.”

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Porter County Sports Reporter

Robbie Weinstein covers Porter County prep sports and Valparaiso University athletics for The Times. You can find the Vanderbilt University and Northwestern University grad posted up on the nearest field of play or in front of the TV.