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Girls basketball
What: Hall of Fame Classic
When: Thursday
Where: New Castle
11 a.m. – Norwell vs. Roncalli
1 p.m. – Penn vs. Mount Vernon
6 p.m. – Consolation
8 p.m. – Championship
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Norwell’s Taylor Wilson, bottom, passes to teammate Sophie Gerber before she rolls out of bounds during a game Dec. 3. The Class 3A No. 1 Knights will play in the Hall of Fame Classic on Thursday at New Castle.

Norwell girls have place among elite

Several elements go into getting picked to play in the Hall of Fame Classic. Tournament officials evaluate returning talent (which includes the junior varsity team), records and a school’s ability to sell tickets.

No wonder it is such a privilege to play in the tournament, one of the best collection of accomplished teams other than the state tournament.

Class 3A top-ranked Norwell will have that coveted chance when it plays in the Classic in the famed New Castle High School gym Thursday.

“The selection process is impressive,” Norwell coach Eric Thornton said. “We were evaluated at several games by (Hall of Fame) committee members the past two years. Sometimes we knew about it, sometimes we didn’t. They wanted to see how our crowds were at both home and away games. When we were notified we were finalists, we then committed to sell tickets as this is the largest fundraiser for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.”

Norwell has proved it belongs in the Classic. The Knights’ 87-11 record over the last five years is the third best in the state.

“We’re so honored to be selected,” Thornton said. “I remember in years past looking forward to watching some really good teams play in this tournament and thinking what an incredible experience it would be to have a team be good enough.

“Our team is fired up to play in the HOF Classic. They know how special it is to be able to play in the world’s largest high school gym and compete against this field.”

The Knights (8-0) will play Indianapolis Roncalli (8-2) in a first-round game at 11 a.m., and Penn (11-0) and Mount Vernon (7-2) plays in the second game. The consolation game is at 6 p.m. with the championship game at 8 p.m.

“I am glad we finally got into this thing,” Norwell senior center Jessica Rupright said. “It is definitely an honor. We are going to go into it and do our best because the teams in it are some of the best in the state. So it’s a good challenge for us.”

Another benefit for the Knights will be to put Rupright on display as one of the state’s top players.

“I don’t think Jessica looks at this as a showcase for herself,” Thornton said. “She is very comfortable in playing the game and in adjusting to different defenses designed to take her away. Jessica also understands how strong her teammates are, and that allows her to just go play.”

The Miami (Ohio) recruit is averaging 18.4 points and 7.9 rebounds.

“I am just honored to be a part of it and say I played in the Hall of Fame Classic,” Rupright said. “I try not to think about (the individual) stuff because it is more on our team and what we can do, not just focused on myself.”

Roncalli returns five starters from a team that reached the 3A semistate before moving up to 4A this year.

“The reality of playing in the Classic is that many teams have gone on to win the state championship, whether they have won this tournament or not,” Thornton said. “Roncalli is very good. We’re trying to win this tournament, and we’ll be able to draw from it the rest of the way.”

Greg Jones is the High School Sports Editor for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in the Fort Wayne area since 1998. He can be reached by email; phone, 461-8224; or fax 461-8648.