By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – Yesterday, IFN looked at Wawasee boys basketball’s climb back up the side of the mountain. Today, IFN will profile one of the teams the Warriors are chasing, and where Panthers were left amidst one of its most difficult finishes in program history.
The NorthWood boys basketball team had reclaimed the glory it was seeking after a hiccup in 2019. The program had gotten back into the state tournament conversation again, beating West Noble and Wawasee in its own sectional to win its sixth title in nine years.
Only four teams finish their seasons with a win in the IHSAA, except in 2020. With the state tournament getting postponed and eventually shut down in April, 64 of those teams were still standing in the regional round, NorthWood among them.
“The 48 hours leading to the postponement of our regional due to the pandemic progressed so quickly,” stated NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe. “The NBA, March Madness, NCAA spring sports had schedules being changed by the hour which created anxiety. Obviously, all of the events were out of our control so we tried to focus on preparing for the regional.”
Wolfe ad-libbed a finality for his team’s season with an inter-squad scrimmage on March 13 in front of a pair of student sections. It would be the literal last organized activity in The Pit as school was canceled the next week.
“After the cancellation we tried to make the best of our circumstances and our team is so appreciative of our cheer block showing up to support us,” Wolfe said. “They are the best cheer block in the state for a reason.”
NorthWood ended its season winning nine of its last 11 games and its final five in a row. It’s 18-6 mark matched the 2018 team that qualified for the regional, which sandwiched a disappointing 10-13 run in 2019.
The team’s journey through the season was also filled with personal trials in addition to the uncontrolled end. A pair of seniors, Jason Borkholder and Trent Edwards, both left games with concussions after nasty falls. Borkholder missed multiple games during the season after his fall at Wawasee, and Edwards’ fall against Wawasee in the sectional championship had the Ink Free News Player of the Year miss the rest of the championship game and sit as a question mark for the regional against Norwell.
Wolfe and his staff did one of its better jobs handling its variations of personnel. With a front-loaded roster of seniors, including Edwards (15.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.5 apg), Borkholder (4.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Brock Flickinger (6.3 ppg, 2.7 apg) and Josh Stratford (3.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and three-year gunner Ben Vincent 8.8 ppg), the team had its rocks in place. But the Panthers also folded in the likes of sophomores Jamarr Jackson (7.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Cooper Wiens (4.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) as well as freshman Ian Raasch (4.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg).
“The “magic” is always in the players,” Wolfe stated. “Our players were special in every way. Their character, leadership and connection to each other makes them an example for teams. They overcame adversity and accepted challenges as a group and their discipline in how they handled themselves will be example for years to come.”