By Mike Deak
AKRON – For a good portion of her basketball life, Sidney Wagner grew up on the court in the shadows of greatness. Whether it was as a middle school girl watching the Tippecanoe Valley girls basketball team make a historic run to the state finals, or playing on the same court as a Division 1 player, Wagner has always admired where greatness would go within basketball.
Now, Wagner can feel like what it means to be defined as ‘great’.
Wagner, the dynamic senior point guard for the Tippecanoe Valley girls basketball program, has been added to a list of greatness as the 2020-21 InkFreeNews Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“It’s crazy to think how good Anne was and how good Sophie was that I’m in that category, it’s truly an honor. Crazy,” Wagner said.
Wagner becomes the third athlete from head coach Chris Kindig’s Tippecanoe Valley program to be named POY, joining two-time winner Anne Secrest (2015-16) and two-time winner Sophie Bussard (2018-19). The award was started in 2015, giving Valley five of the seven Player of the Year award recipients. Whitko’s Ally Reiff in 2017 and NorthWood’s Maddy Payne in 2020 are the other two.
In her final game as a Viking, Wagner notched a personal milestone in passing 1,000 points, the big shot a three-pointer in the Wawasee Girls Basketball Sectional semi-final against NorthWood. Wagner would settle at 1,012 points, ending sixth all-time in program scoring and just the seventh Viking to accomplish the 1,000-point feat.
Statistically speaking, Wagner is among the best in the state. Her point-per-game average of 19.6 ranks 29th in the state (as of Feb. 20), and is 21st in assists (5.0) and also in steals (4.5). Not to shake a stick at, her 7.7 rebounds per game is 119th, but considering Wagner was primarily Valley’s point guard, the rebounding numbers are staggering.
Wagner finished as a 39-percent field goal shooter, 76-percent free throw shooter, and crossed the 20-point plateau 11 times, a high of 37 in what would be a career game against Southwood. She also had nine steals in the Southwood game, one of three times she hit that figure, had at least seven games of seven-plus assists, and recorded eight double-doubles on the campaign.
She was everywhere on the court.
“Our program has been very fortunate that we have had girls who “wanted the ball” in key situations,” said Tippecanoe Valley girls basketball head coach Chris Kindig. “Anne Secrest, Sophie Bussard, a lot of that can be attributed to the confidence they have in themselves due to the knowledge that they put the time in the off season to make themselves the best they can be. Sidney has just continued that tradition and commitment to excellence. They set the bar really high for our program.”
Speaking of Bussard, Wagner will talk your ear off about the leadership she gained from her mentor. Both players carry a similar style of play, a similar swagger on the court, and a similar disposition off the court. As Bussard was building a high school career that helped her become a Division 1 player on Ohio Valley Conference champion Southeast Missouri State, Wagner was watching and trying to emulate her role model. Many have compared the two, Wagner being the first.
“I felt a little pressure to be like her, but I also had to be me,” Wagner said of Bussard. “I have great teammates and they are willing to make plays, I didn’t have to be selfish and try to do everything on my own or be like someone else. As I was younger, I looked up to her, I wanted to be like her in a way. When I was a freshman, she came up to me and helped me as much as she could.
“That’s what I tell my teammates and the girls who are going to be here after I’m gone. You’ve got to work and want it more than I did.”
Bussard mentioned the same fashion Kobe Bryant ‘coached’ his teammates, she took the same approach with Wagner.
“She caught a lot from me,” Bussard said. “My senior year, she was the point guard, I was hard on her. I didn’t want to see her waste potential. She probably would say she hated me more than liked me that year, I was always on her at practice.
“There was a day her freshman year at an open gym in the spring,” continued Bussard. “I knew she could work hard, and I made her guard me. She wasn’t playing hard, she was jogging. I straight up told her if you aren’t going to play hard then go home. Don’t come back. I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I was getting my point across. She was like, whoa. She responded. She had the potential and the willingness to be great.”
Wagner made official on Feb. 15 she is joining Trine University to continue her basketball career, adding to the long line of Valley players moving to the next level. She didn’t have to, so to speak, as she has built quite a reputation as a motocross rider, even earning sponsorships and plenty of fans on the circuit.
But basketball just has a calling, and for the 2020-21 Player of the Year, it’s calling her name.
“I strive to do better all the time, college is making me nervous thinking about it because that’s a whole new level,” Wagner said. “I have people surrounding me who are amazing. My coaches, they are amazing, Sophie, I text her all the time. I know they will be there for me if I need it. I can’t complain.”