NAPPANEE — For the first time in six years, a Northern Lakes Conference sports team won a state championship last season.
The NorthWood girls basketball team brought home the title, defeating Salem, 37-29, to win the IHSAA Class 3A girls basketball state crown. It capped off a 28-3 season for the Panthers and a perfect 7-0 run in the postseason.
This year’s Panthers, though, look a lot different than last year’s team.
Two weeks after winning the championship, head coach Adam Yoder announced he was resigning from the position. Yoder cited wanting to spend more time with his family as a reason for resigning. Yoder is also a teacher and the girls golf coach at the school, and coaching basketball was taking up a lot of his time.
NorthWood couldn’t have found a more qualified replacement, however, as the school hired Mark Heeter as the new coach. Heeter coached Triton for 14 seasons, leading them to back-to-back Class 1A state championships in 2000 and 2001. He hasn’t been a varsity girls basketball coach since then, but has a career coaching record of 204-98.
Heeter has recently spent time in the NorthWood community as a varsity assistant volleyball coach and coached 5th and 6th grade basketball in the Wa-Nee School District.
“I am extremely humbled by the opportunity to coach at Northwood,” Heeter said. “I will do my absolute best to continue the tradition of winning begun by Hall of Fame coach Steve Neff and continued by Adam Yoder. This year will be a challenge, both on and off the court, due to COVID-19, but I am ready to get back on the sideline and anxious to see our team in action.”
The Panther roster also looks drastically different from a season ago, notably in the height department. NorthWood graduated four seniors, including 6-2 Maddy Payne and 6-0 Kate Rulli. Both players were featured in the offense heavily, as they were the top two leading scorers last year.
Two starters from the state team return in seniors Alea Minnich and Kendal Miller. Senior Bre Wise was also a key player last season off the bench, and those three will be looked to lead a relatively young Panther group as it defends its state championship.
“We have limited experience back from last year's state championship team, but the three that are returning were extremely critical to the success of last year's team,” Heeter said. “We are counting on them to bring along the rest of the team as the year progresses. We have some youth, but some good talent on the varsity. Abby Steiner brings varsity experience from Wawasee and will be an important part of this year's team.”
Given the changing roster, Heeter expects a different style of play from his team this year. Defense, though, is expected to be the heart and soul of the team just like it was a season ago.
“The Black Swish will look to a more up-tempo game this year,” Heeter said. “We lost considerable size with the graduation of Maddy Payne and Kate Rulli, so we will need to be quick and effective on offense this year. The strength of the team last year was its defense and we will hope to be even better this year in that department.”
TOP NLC CONTENDERS
With NorthWood expected to go through a season of transition, the Northern Lakes Conference expects to be wide open. While teams like Warsaw are expected to contend for the conference title, others like Concord and Goshen have the talent to win the conference crown.
The Minutemen have posted back-to-back winning seasons following 25-straight years below .500. Concord’s coach, Cassie Cepeda, enters her fifth season leading the program, and seniors like Kendal Swartout and Devine Johnson will be critical pieces if the Minutemen want to breakthrough in the postseason.
“Grateful for the opportunity to compete with this team this season,” Cepeda said. “The team is ready to embrace the daily challenges to compete. Finding consistency will be crucial. Young sophomore class, led by seniors Kendal Swartout and Devine Johnson, will need to develop and understand roles quickly. Everyone has the ability and will have the opportunity to contribute, but being consistent every day will lead to exciting opportunities.”
Goshen only has two seniors on the roster, but one of them is one of the top players in the state. Brynn Shoup-Hill signed to play college basketball at Dayton University following her senior year with the RedHawks, and the all-around player should make Goshen a contender in every game they play. Shoup-Hill comes into her final year averaging 13.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game for her career.
“We are young as far as varsity experience, but these girls are eager to carry on the culture that has been established,” Goshen coach Shaun Hill said. “We will compete hard and be prepared for whatever this season has in store for us.”
BETHANY CHRISTIAN BRUINS
Head Coach: Krysten Parson, 15th season (138-176 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Margene Zink, Brent Reinhardt
Last season’s record: 5-17
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Sadie Brenneman, Mia Reinhardt, Rilynn Kaufmann, Maddie Chupp; Junior: Ivonne Ortiz
Other varsity players: Freshmen: Mariah Stoltzfus, Zoe Willems
Coach's comments on the upcoming season: “It will be an interesting season, for sure. Without having anytime to play together this summer, we are quickly having to acclimate ourselves to each other. This is a great group of girls with a lot of athleticism that enjoy getting up and down the court quickly.”
Head Coach: Cassie Cepeda, 5th season (43-49 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Nic Minder, Jim Read, Akyah Taylor, Rayven Johnson
Last season’s record: 15-8 (4-3 NLC)
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Kendal Swartout, Devine Johnson; Junior: Bailei Mayo; Sophomore: Savannah Boerema, Lauren Smith, Aliyah Hershberger, Kendal Taylor
Other varsity players: Junior: Lynnsey Delio; Sophomore: Ashlyn Fish
Head Coach: Brodie Garber, 9th season (117-74 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Troy Sands, Lindsay Kauffman, Amy Garber
Last season’s record: 15-10
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Mackayla Stutsman, Laney Faldoe; Junior: Brooke Sanchez; Sophomores: Brea Garber, Bailey Willard, Morgan Gawthrop
Other varsity players: Senior: Kayla Miller; Junior: Riley Yoder; Sophomores: Jessica Tharp, Malley Behles, Delana Geiger; Freshman: Jayslynn Hall
Head Coach: Shaun Hill, 4th season (44-26 at school, 69-51 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Derek Gilreath, Lindsey Erba, Sarah Miller, Kayla Gingerich
Last season’s record: 18-6 (3-4 NLC)
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Brynn Shoup-Hill, Megan Gallagher; Juniors: Tori Eldridge, Emma Detwiler; Sophomore: Tyra Marcum
Other varsity players: Junior: Maddie Garber, Trinity Nemeth; Sophomores: Sarah Harmelink, Brianna Valderrama, Breyana Cline; Freshman: Kyra Hill
Head Coach: Dale Gearheart, 1st season
Assistant Coaches: Ken Hartsough, Angie Moore, Dave Bowers
Last season’s record: 15-9 (7-3 NECC)
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Bailey Hartsough, Sadie Edsall, Madison Keil, Kendal Moore; Sophomores: Peyton Hartsough, Faith Reihl, Alivia Rasler
Other varsity players: Senior: Haley Alleshouse; Juniors: Pilar Canedo, Hayden Frost; Sophomore: Grace Iddings
Coach's comments on the upcoming season: “New coach, new system and they are picking it up! We are excited to surprise some teams this year! Strong senior core of five and four solid sophomores and two juniors. We are looking forward to continuing to win more games this season.”
Head Coach: Doug Springer, 14th season (219-93 at school, 271-111 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Dennis Bontrager, Molly Bontrager, Mikaela Zook, Dan Huizenga. Youth Coordinator-Derek Conley
Last season’s record: 10-15 (4-3 NLC)
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Jaci Walker, Makena Knepp, Brylee Froman; Juniors: Colleen Miller, Julia Mantyla; Sophomore: Eva Fisher
Other varsity players: Junior: Mady Gorball; Sophomores: Tame Baylis, Gabby Gates; Freshman: Morgan Cross
Coach's comments on the upcoming season: “We are going to continue to play a top-20 schedule. We are now more prepared to compete as we have six of our top eight players returning. Our 1st month of the season will have us playing 6-7 teams that will be ranked in the Top 20 of Indiana. We are small, and our strength this season will be our quickness. Rebounding and defense will be a major point of emphasis, and if we increase our rebounding margin by three a game, and lower our defensive average by six points a game, we will again be competing for championships. We are very excited to continue to build our program and compete for conference and sectional championships.”
Head Coach: Mark Heeter, 1st season (204-98 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Gene Zercher, Corey Duncan, Jon Andrews, Audrey Duncan, Ashley Ramirez
Last season’s record: 28-3, NLC, Sectional, Regional, Semistate and Class 3A State Champions
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Kendal Miller, Alea Minnich, Bre Wise
Other varsity players: Seniors: Abby Steiner, Lili Lomeli; Junior: Fatima Ghaffar; Sophomores: Aaliyah Bonner, Riley Kitson, Cary Mast, Macy Lengacher; Freshman: Joselyn Edwards
Head Coach: Matt Carpenter, 5th season (35-57 overall)
Assistant Coaches: Dina Coverstone, Jen Holsclaw, Trent Beer, Dino Coverstone
Last season’s record: 8-15 (1-6 NLC)
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Danielle Jenkins, Tate Cowan; Juniors: Emily Haines, Jada Carter, Becca Smith, Kennedy White
Other varsity players: Junior: Lindsay Doss
Coach's comments on the upcoming season: “The coaching staff and team are excited about the upcoming season. We bring back a lot of varsity experience; players who have learned a lot from having to play varsity as freshmen and sophomores. Although we do not have anyone at six feet or taller, we have a nice group of athletic and long players who are 5-8 and 5-9.”
WEST NOBLE CHARGERS
Head Coach: Jeff Burns, 1st season
Assistant Coaches: Gene Teel, Kris Underwood, Tarah Brennan
Last season’s record: 10-13
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Lillian Mast, Nichelle Phares, Taytlynn Forrer, Erin Shoemaker, Tori Franklin, Angela Caldwell, Lily Nelson; Juniors: Jazmyn Smith, Shey Torres
Other varsity players: Sophomore: Mackensy Mabie
Coach's comments on the upcoming season: “We are very excited for this season and a bit apprehensive, as I'm sure we all are, on how COVID will affect things. We have a large group of returning players who have worked hard on their game in the offseasonand are looking to take that step to the next level. We want to put players in the best positions to maximize their individual strengths, while helping the team as a whole. Our goal, as it is every season, is to compete for a conference title, conference tournament title, and a sectional title. We feel that the conference and our sectional are tough, but with our returning players and our talent we should be able to compete with anyone.”
Head Coach: Ryan Yoder, 1st season
Assistant Coaches: Adam Christner, Kellie Bontrager
Last season’s record: 5-19 (0-10 NECC)
Returning letterwinners: Seniors: Hallie Mast, Erika Miller, Katrina Schwartz; Juniors: Hailey Miller, Allie Springer; Sophomore: Sara Lapp
Other varsity players: Senior: Inah Miller; Sophomores: Andrea Miller, Kamryn Miller; Freshman: Hope Bortner
Coach's comments on the upcoming season: "There are a lot of unknowns coming into the 2020-21 season, and as the season progresses, we hope to see girls settling into their roles on the team. We have been focusing on the basics on both ends of the floor and we will keep building on that foundation throughout the season."