NAPPANEE – It was probably a blessing in disguise for NorthWood to have everyone rooting against them at the Wawasee Boys Basketball Sectional last winter. Means you’ve got something everyone else wants.
After rattling off multiple seasons of 20-plus wins, NorthWood found itself in a rare down year of sorts after going 10-13. The Panthers still were a tough out and Tippecanoe Valley, along with everyone else in that sectional didn’t want to draw the Panthers in the tournament.
After a year to regain its footing, expect to see NorthWood back among the elite once again after getting its roster one year older and developing yet another star scorer for clubs to worry about.
Despite losing 13 games a season ago, NorthWood entered the tournament on a four-game win streak before Valley knocked the Panthers out of the semi-finals, 45-41, en route to its championship. The Panthers return eight from the sectional roster this season including a pair of double-digit scorers in junior Ben Vincent and senior Trent Edwards.
Vincent is capable of scoring in droves, settling at 12.2 points per night, but shot just as well from three-point range (42 percent) as he did from two-point range (43 percent). Edwards scored more of his points closer to the basket, hitting 47 percent of his 231 shot attempts and added a team-high 67 assists and 27 steals.
“Ben is one of the hardest workers we have in the basketball program,” said NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe. “Last year, he was a little tentative in taking some of the bigger shots for us a first. But as he gained confidence, he became someone who wanted the ball late in games. His vast improvement in leadership was very impressive.
“Trent Edwards is growing mentally and skill-wise for us,” continued Wolfe. “He puts a lot of pressure on defenses with the basketball in his hands, but he has also become a very good defender. He’s quick, he’s a good rebounder and will likely be a focal point of other teams that have to defend him.”
The senior class is well represented for the Panthers, with Brock Flickinger (4.8 ppg, 50 assists), Jason Borkholder (4.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg) Josh Stratford and Andrew Miller all returning to varsity action. Junior Caleb Schwartz and sophomores Jamarr Jackson and Cooper Wiens all saw limited action in varsity contests.
Wolfe also notes freshmen Ian Raasch and Cade Brenner could find their ways into varsity games sooner than later.
“Each group is different from year to year as you try to establish your identity,” Wolfe said. “From an offensive standpoint, we were trying to learn where and when those shots were going to come. We played our best ball the final five games of the season, compared to our first five, and that is where I was most proud of that group. I feel this group now has the ability to start much better than we did a year ago.”
NorthWood again has the Bud Brown Classic down in Muncie on its calendar at the end of November. Locally, an interesting stretch could project NorthWood’s tournament direction with three in a row at The Pit against West Noble, Memorial and St. Joe in the course of five days in mid-February, then visit Tippecanoe Valley the following Tuesday.
“We always feel fortunate to play the schedule we have and the privilege to play in the Northern Lakes Conference,” Wolfe said. “To be in some of those competitive games, our expectations are always consistent. We want to represent our community well and play at a state level. Those expectations don’t change from year to year.”