NO. 1-RANKED NORTHWESTERN LADY TIGERS CLAIM HOOSIER CONFERENCE GIRLS BASKETBALL TITLE

Northwestern Lady Tigers – 2018 Hoosier Conference girls basketball champions. (SJ photo/William Gibson)

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – To the surprise of few in Central Indiana, the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association placed its No. 1 ranking on the Northwestern Lady Tigers in the preseason Class 3A girls basketball poll. Nearly three months later, it looks as through the coaches got it right as Northwestern has run the gamut of Indiana squads, posting a perfect 22-0 record against teams from the Hoosier state while also claiming a conference title.

One year after losing the Hoosier Conference title game in heartbreaking fashion on the road at West Lafayette (50-49), the East Division champion Lady Tigers hosted the West Division champion and Class 3A No. 15 Benton Central Bison in a rematch of last years sectional championship game that saw Northwestern top the Bison 59-29. Nearly a year later, not much had changed as the Tigers claimed the Hoosier Conference title in a 59-26 blowout.

“This means a lot after last year,” said sophomore Madison Layden, who led the Lady Tigers to its first conference title since 2009 in the Mid-Indiana Conference. “We have worked hard to get here.”

Northwestern jumped to a 12-2 lead against Benton Central, but only led 13-10 after the first eight minutes before taking a 33-16 lead into the halftime break. While defense was strong in the first half, forcing 18 Bison turnovers, Northwestern turned the pressure up a notch in the second half. In 16 minutes of action, the Lady Tigers held the Bison to one field goal and forced nine third quarter turnovers.

“It was a big emphasis for us to come out and play our game; to play hard. It was important to show what we could do,” said sophomore Kendall Bostic. “We had a ton of energy and keyed off of each other. We had confidence (in the third).”

“Our defense is very important,” added Madison Layden. “Our defense came out and we worked hard at it.”

Northwestern head coach Kathie Layden agreed that the third quarter defense was instrumental – and maybe even sent a message to those scouts in the stands.

“I thought in the third quarter we really came out and picked up our defense,” she said. “That was the difference.”

While the defense was dominant – the Lady Bison (17-5) were held to six total field goals while committing 30 turnovers – the Lady Tigers offense was just as effective. Layden led the way with six assists, five rebounds, four steals and 24 points (7 for 11) – 14 in the first half. She also hit 8 of 9 free throws and scored nine points in the second quarter to help put the game away.

Bostic finished with 12 points and a game-high seven rebounds and junior Taylor Boruff dropped in nine points and set the offensive pace early. Klair Merrell scored eight points and Sarah Vas added four steals on defense.

Bostic said the year difference in maturity for the young squad is paying dividends for the Tigers, whose only loss this season was a 65-63 setback to Louisville Mercy in a game played in the Bluegrass State.

“We are a different team,” said Bostic, whose squad fell in the Elite Eight last season. “When we watch film, we can see we were stronger than last year, we are all faster, and we all have more experience.”

With a conference title under its belt, the squad will look to move on to the next level of play – meaning a second consecutive sectional title and sixth overall. But the path to a title will come in unfamiliar territory as the Lady Tigers have shifted to 3A Sectional 20 at Frankfort.

“We have some time off here so we can get our minds in the right place,” said Kathie Layden. “We are going to Frankfort, which is new. We will see what the draw looks like.”

While the location is new, the draw has a familiar foe – cross-county rival Western (2-19) will be the first opponent for the Lady Tigers en route to a state title run in game two on Jan. 30 (approximately 7:30 p.m.). Frankfort (3-16) and Maconaquah (1-17) open the sectional while West Lafayette (13-7) and Peru (6-13) drew the byes. The winner will move on to the Twin Lakes Regional to play the winner of the Glenn Sectional.

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2017 MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: KYLE WADE, KOKOMO WILDKATS FOOTBALL

By DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Kokomo High School senior Kyle Wade had a whale of a year. The three-sport standout will graduate in June as one of the best athletes to ever grace the halls of KHS. But it was his historic run leading the Wildkats to the IHSAA Class 5A state championship game that earned Wade the 2017 Sports Journal Male Athlete of the Year award.

His stellar year started in the spring as a standout pitcher for the Wildkats, finishing 5-1 on the hill with one save and a 3.76 ERA. The then-junior also hit .306 while playing shortstop for the Kats. Wade has made 24 appearances in three seasons with a 10-8 record and 4.09 ERA. He has 75 career strikeouts in 90.2 innings pitched.

While baseball is where Wade will play in college (Purdue University), it was on the gridiron where he made the most impact as he rewrote the record book for quarterbacks. During the state finals run – which was a first for the Wildkats – Wade set single-season records for passing yards (1,694), completions (113) and touchdowns (tied with 17).

For his career, Wade set the Wildkats mark for passing yards (4,150), completions (274), attempts (514) and touchdowns (47). He ended his career with a 35-13 record. Remarkably, Wade started all 48 games the Kats played during his four-year career as a starting quarterback.

“He is a three-year captain as voted by his teammates. He is a two-year team mental attitude winner and will be the team MVP this year,” said Colby after the state finals. “He means everything to this program and we are going to miss him for sure next year.”

After the state championship game, he was named the Class 5A Phil N. Eskew Mental Attitude Award – he is the eighth Wildkat to earn an IHSAA mental attitude award. He is also ranked No. 11 of 325 students in the KHS class of 2018. Add everything together and Kyle Wade had one of the best year’s in Kokomo Wildkat history.

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2017 FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: NYSSA BAKER, IU KOKOMO VOLLEYBALL

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – The Indiana University Kokomo women’s volleyball team has become a national power due to the coaching of Heather Hayes, who has recruited great player after great player. Her 2017 recruiting class was no different as it produced one of the top freshmen in the nation – Nyssa Baker.

After leading the NAIA in two categories and securing several other honors, Baker is the 2017 Sports Journal Female Athlete of the Year.

Baker, a middle hitter who graduated from Fort Wayne Snider in 2017, had an immediate impact for the Cougars and was a key part in the squad winning the River States Conference regular season with a perfect 16-0 record. Along the way, the Cougars set a program record with a 22-game win streak while earning a berth in the NAIA National Championships.

For Baker’s part, she led the nation in total blocks with 216 and blocks per game at 1.580. She also had 384 kills in her rookie season. In River States Conference action, she was named the RSC Attacker of the Week three times and the RSC Defender of the Week once. Baker was also named the All-Tournament Team Most Valuable Player at the Liz Lykowski Memorial Tournament played at Indiana Tech, a tourney won by the Cougars.

After the season, Baker was named the RSC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year before earning NAIA All-American honorable mention status. She was also named the NAIA AVCA Midcentral Region Freshman of the Year while being named to the all-reginal first team.

With a pair of Player of the Year awards, All-American status and statistics that lead the nation, Nyssa Baker is well-deserving of the Female Athlete of the Year honor.

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