BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – DOMINATION! That may be the only word to describe how a group of Northwestern Lady Tigers cruised to the Kokomo-Howard County Basketball Tournament championship for a third consecutive year. Over the course of three seasons, this year’s eighth grade Purple Tigers squad has won the tournament over Kokomo in impressive fashion – they won as sixth graders 45-6, as seventh graders 65-5 and this year 60-8. Yes, in three championship games, this squad of future varsity Lady Tigers has outscored Kokomo 170-19 in the title games while putting together a perfect 74-0 record since the fifth grade. Domination to the highest degree.
While this group of super talented Tigers has cruised through four consecutive regular seasons with ease, head coach Todd Miller said that means they have to work extra hard in practice to keep the competitive edge.
“Our practices are pretty competitive – we have good depth so that helps,” said Miller, the former varsity coach at Northwestern. “We also practiced with the high school whenever we could to just try and give them some competition.”
Miller said he also has to find more creative ways to keep the squad focused.
“A lot of times in games, we will have them write down individual goals for that game,” said Miller. “And we try and get them to achieve things out of their comfort zone. And sometimes, I will have them already written down and they have to pull one out and accomplish that goal. They are very goal oriented. It is a competitive group.”
The coach pointed to a level of maturity as a key point with this group of players.
“I think their selflessness are something people have really noticed about them,” said Miller. “We have some individual kids who could really put up big numbers if they wanted to, but it is not about that for them. They really do a nice job of sharing the ball and getting other kids to score. That is just the way they are.”
And while the squad is about winning, Miller noted they are still kids and want to have fun.
“I tell them that they have an amazing ability to flip the switch,” said Miller as his team celebrated in the middle of Memorial Gymnasium. “They may not have a game face before the game, but when the ball is tipped they get after it. But if you look at the floor now, they look like eighth graders. They know when they get to high school it will get a little more serious. They get it.”
In the championship game, the Tigers cruised to a 17-0 first quarter lead and the game was basically over at the half as Northwestern led 32-5.
Leading the way for Northwestern was Madison Layden, who scored 17 first half points en route to a game high 25. The daughter of varsity coach Kathie had 21 in last year’s seventh grade title bout. Kate Miller scored nine while Sarah Heaver and Kaylee Weeks had six each. Klair Merrell dropped in five, Breana Weaver scored four, Kailey Kidwell had three and Kendall Bostic two. Other members of the team are Kendal Rooze, Jessica Edwards and Christina Smith.
For Kokomo, Kiah Parrot popped a pair of 3-pointers for six points while Jordenn Call scored two.
Miller said the Northwestern community should be excited about the current state of Northwestern girls basketball.
“There are a lot of great players out there (in eighth grade) and a lot of great players ahead of them,” he said. “We are excited about Northwestern basketball, without a doubt.”
Miller said the ultimate goal is to get the players ready for the next level.
“We are trying to get them ready for high school basketball, that is the goal,” he said. “It is an awesome group of kids, but it hasn’t come without a price. They put in the time. We played two games last Saturday in conference and then about six of them played two or three AAU games that night.
The future is bright at Northwestern – this year’s freshman class and the current eighth graders have a combined middle school record of 113-1. Basketball eyes across the state will be focused on the Lady Tigers for the next four seasons.