Northwestern seniors Sarah Vas, Kora Loer and Morgan Mercer pose with the championship hardware. (SJ photo/Douglas Hockney)


KOKOMO, Ind. – For three young women, it was a trip of a lifetime. For 32 minutes of game action, they earned enough memories to last forever – an Indiana high school basketball state championship.

And while none of the three were the stars of the show, they each contributed significantly as the No. 1-ranked Northwestern Lady Tigers won the IHSAA Class 3A state championship with a 63-42 win over No. 2 Greensburg.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience since I am a senior,” said Morgan Mercer, whose role on the team was a spark off the bench. “It was cool.”

Kora Loer, the second of the three seniors, averaged 2.7 points per game this season while playing as a spot player in the post.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Loer of winning the state title. “No one has ever done this before at our school. Everyone is really supportive and behind us 100-percent. We have been playing so long that we have great chemistry – we know each other inside and out and I wouldn’t want to play on any other team.”

Sarah Vas, the only senior to start for the Tigers, was awarded the IHSAA Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award after the game. Like Loer, she talked about how close knit the team is.

“We’re different; we are different than a lot of teams, because we bond,” she said. “We love being around each other. We’re obviously around each other a lot, so it’s really good that we have a good chemistry. And so this season has been awesome. We haven’t really had any faults, and I think that’s why we’re here and why we had such a good lead on them.”

While the trio’s stats are not as gaudy as other players on the team, they helped lay the foundation for where Northwestern is today. Head coach Kathie Layden has talked about the senior class and what they mean to the program. And now, she knows they will leave holes that others will need to fill – from practice preparation to game minutes.

“We have three seniors to replace,” said Layden. “That is going to be very hard to do.”

The seniors of 2018 will go down as the most successful class in Northwestern history after they brought home the state title. In four seasons, they finished with a record of 77-25 while winning one conference, two sectionals, one regional, one semi-state and the 2018 state championship.

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For more on Northwestern’s historic night, see the Feb. 27 edition of the Sports Journal. Request your free digital subscription today.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Northwestern’s expected run to a Class 3A state championship got off to a bit of a sluggish start, but coach Kathie Layden’s Tigers used a 16-1 run in the second quarter to take command and roll to a 63-42 win over Greensburg at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The No. 2 Pirates led early and trailed only 15-13 early in the second quarter before Northwestern went on its decisive run. The Tigers eventually led by as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter before settling for the final margin.

The victory gives top-ranked Northwestern (29-1) its first state title in program history, although head coach Kathie Layden became the second coach to lead two different schools to a state championship joining Donna Cheatham. She guided Tri-Central to Class A titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Stephanie Burns led the Tigers (who finish with a 22-game winning streak) with 17 points, while Kendal Bostic added 14 and Madison Layden (the coach’s daughter) with 13 points.

Misha Morrison led Greensburg (23-4) with 12 points.

Class 3A State Championship Records

Most Points in a Quarter: (Tied) 24 by Northwestern vs. Greensburg (2nd quarter).

Most Combined Fouls: 42 by Northwestern (21) and Greensburg (21).

Sarah Vas named Mental Attitude Award winner 

Following the game, members of the IHSAA Executive Committee named Sarah Vas of Northwestern High School as the winner of the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award in Class 3A Girls Basketball.

The award is presented annually to a senior participant in each classification who was nominated by her principal and coach and has demonstrated excellence in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletic ability.

Vas is team captain for Northwestern, and a four-year letter winner in basketball. She has helped the team to a conference championship, two sectional championships, a regional championship and a semi-state championship. 

Outside of athletics, she spends time volunteering for different events at Northwestern and has also given her time to Howard Haven-Nursing Home. In the classroom, she is third in her class of 117. Vas has been dubbed the Outstanding Chemistry student and earned a level three honorable mention for the 2015 national letters about literature contest. 

She is the daughter of Timothy and Mary Vas and will study pharmacy at Purdue University.

The Indiana Fever and Indiana Pacers, the presenting sponsor of the IHSAA Girls Basketball State Tournament, presented a $1,000 scholarship to Northwestern High School in the name of Sarah Vas. Since 1989, more than $840,000 in college scholarships have been presented to deserving high school athletes in Indiana.

The award is named in honor of the former IHSAA assistant commissioner Patricia L. Roy, who oversaw the girls basketball state tournament from its inception in 1976 until her retirement in 1999.

Courtesy of the IHSAA

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Northwestern’s Madison Layden, Kora Loer, Sarah Vas and Klair Merrell are all smiles after earning a trip to the Class 3A state finals. (SJ photo/Douglas Hockney)


LOGANSPORT, Ind. – From the opening tip of the IHSAA Class 3A Logansport Semi-State, it was apparent that the best team on the floor was the team that had steamrolled its previous five tournament opponents. By the time the Berry Bowl horn sounded to end the game, the No. 1-ranked Northwestern Lady Tigers were celebrating another lopsided victory – this time a 70-43 win over No. 3 Fairfield.

And it was not even that close.

“It is just amazing,” said senior Morgan Mercer after the Lady Tigers claimed the programs first-ever berth in an IHSAA state finals. “I can’t think of a better way to go out; and thank God it is not over yet. This is awesome.”

Senior Sarah Vas, a defensive specialist who also handles the ball on offense, was all smiles after the game. She credits the fact the squad is more of a family than a team.

“I am ecstatic and I am so happy,” she said. “We work so hard day in and day out. I love playing with them. We love each other so much and that is what makes the difference. Other teams may be good, but they don’t have the chemistry that we have.”

Unlike the regional championship game last weekend that saw a sluggish Lady Tigers start, Northwestern started strong in its first-ever Final Four contest. Taylor Boruff started the scoring by getting loose inside the paint. Fairfield countered on the other end for a 2-2 game – and that is as close as it would be the rest of the way. Kendall Bostic scored and Madison Layden stole a pass and dropped in a bucket. Layden then grabbed a rebound and found Bostic open, and before the Lady Falcons knew what hit them, it was an 8-2 lead for Northwestern and 19-12 after eight minutes.

“This is incredible – what a fun atmosphere,” said head coach Kathie Layden, noting the entire south side of the gym was dressed in purple. “I told the girls before the game that this would be the most fun game they have played in. Now they have one more.”

Midway through the second stanza, the purple machine – which has now outscored its tournament opponents by an amazing combined margin of 444-165 – shifted into high gear. Boruff wowed the crowd by going behind her back on a fast-break and then zipping a pass to Bostic for two points. Boruff then hit a shot of her own and Bostic hit back-to-back shots on nice passes from Katie Neher and Layden to open a 31-16 lead. The 16-2 run led the team to a 39-20 halftime margin.

“I am honestly excited for these kids,” said Layden. “We have worked hard and we deserve to be here. Now, to be rewarded by going to the state finals is what they have worked for.”

Layden said a main component to the squads winning ways – they are 50-5 in the last two seasons – is that they have bought into her system. Layden is no stranger to championships – she led Tri-Central to three Class 1A state titles and is already a member of the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame.

“It is obvious when you watch us that all they care about is winning,” she said. “They have bought into our system – our defense, how they unselfishly pass the ball, just the way they play.”

Vas added, “Our main thing is winning, no matter what it takes.”

Madison Layden led the team with a 28-point performance that included nine fouls drawn, six rebounds, six assists and four steals – all team highs. During the game she passed the 900-point career mark and increased her school record single-season scoring record to 549.

Bostic hit her first six shots, finishing with 18 points on 9 for 11 shooting. She also grabbed five rebounds, had two assists, one block and one steal. Boruff scored 12 points and had two assists and two steals. Vas added six points on 3 for 4 shooting. Neher, Sarah Heaver and Stephanie Burns rounded out the scoring with two points each.

The Lady Tigers job continues this Saturday as top-ranked Northwestern (28-1) will play No. 2 Greensburg (23-3) in the IHSAA Class 3A state championship game at 6 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tickets are on sale in the Northwestern athletic office from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until the Tigers ticket allotment runs out; the cost is $15 and includes the 4A contest which follows.

The other state championship games include: Class 1A, Vincennes Rivet (26-2) vs. Marquette Catholic (26-2); 2A, Winchester (26-2) vs. Central Noble (22-5); and 4A, Warren Central (19-7) vs. Zionsville (22-5).

Class 1A Valparaiso Semi-State: The Tri-Central Lady Trojans underdog run came to an end with a 58-18 loss to No. 1 Marquette Catholic in the Class 1A North Final Four game in Valparaiso.

Under first year coach Jason Bales, the Lady Trojans had upset No. 7 Northfield in the sectional and No. 8 Tri in the regional. Tri-Central ends the season 16-11.

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