NAPPANEE – While the road to the IHSAA Girls Basketball State Finals has been a bold and new one for the NorthWood girls basketball program, the actual route south has been traveled before by a handful within the program.
At the top of the Black Swish program is head coach Adam Yoder. While this is Yoder’s first run through the state tournament with the basketball team, he’s no stranger to the 317 and the state finals in golf. The NorthWood girls golf team has reached the state finals four of the past seven seasons, consecutively in 2018 and 2019, the past run in October had the Panthers finishing a best-ever sixth place. Yoder and team mascot, Oreo, were on patrol for all of them, helping along one of the area’s quietest dynasties.
NorthWood hasn’t lost a Northern Lakes Conference golf dual in over seven years, yet Yoder found himself swept up after the basketball team went 7-0 this past season in the NLC. Tears of joy flowed after sectional, regional and semi-state titles were achieved by the Black Swish in recent weeks, and Yoder noted there are some pretty bold commonalities between the two formats.
“As much as people might not believe it, it’s really just more people,” offered Yoder. “The accomplishment doesn’t mean any more to these kids than it did to the golf kids. I think, to me, we are going to finish at least second in basketball which is pretty sweet because this is a class sport. But for the people involved in both programs, it doesn’t feel any different.
“Now, the extracurriculars, the media coverage, the TV, the amount of people who are going to watch, that’s the big difference you’ll see,” continued Yoder. “Banker’s Life Fieldhouse is probably more intimidating of a venue than Legends or Prairie View. For me, I’ll probably lean on some of the experiences we had with the golf program to get through this week and this weekend.”
As Yoder has asserted himself among the elite coaches in the area in two sports, he’s getting his point across. Players like freshman Riley Kitson are getting a crash course in seeing greatness and trying to emulate it. Kitson has seen nothing but state finals, golfing as a reserve in the fall and now working with the basketball team. While getting into just one varsity game this season, a two-minute run against Triton, her work at practice banging with Maddy Payne and Kate Rulli has taught the understudy some valuable lessons about both expectation and accountability.
“I’m learning that just like in golf, if you make a mistake, you can correct it, but the mistakes start to matter if you make too many,” said Kitson. “Having to guard Maddy and Kate in practice, I’m learning so much. I have to be stronger. I have to make better decisions when I’m on the court. I think taking the hits in practice against them is just making me a stronger player and a stronger person.”
As Payne, Rulli and company have been hailing most of the headlines on this state run, two members of the varsity team have been there and done that. Just not in basketball.
Senior guard Reagan Hartman and sophomore guard Emma Martz both have been to a state finals before. The two, along with 2019 graduates Lexi Parisi and Riley Hershberger, sped their way to Bloomington last June to compete in the 4×100 relay at the IHSAA Girls Track State Finals. The team finished in 27th place. What’s more telling of the current duo is track is their third sport behind basketball, and what both girls have admitted as soccer being their No. 1s.
“This whole situation seems bigger than it did in track,” Hartman said. “Obviously have a full team playing basketball where in track it was just four of us. We still have to get down to practice the same, though. We have a goal and we want to get it.”
Added Martz, “The main difference between basketball compared to track is there are so many people supporting you outside of your actual team. There are people always there for you in basketball. In track as an individual, there aren’t that many people who understand how big of a deal track is. But for basketball, just about everybody knows we’re going to state. Which is still very cool.”
And while the players are posing with trophies and hi-fiving in the hallways, another senior is quietly (at least most of the time) watching from above. Delaney Davis hasn’t taken one shot, dished one assist, even jumped off the bench in celebration. But Davis has been cheering the team on high above wherever they play, running the video equipment. After helping the team to the golf state finals as one of the varsity five, Davis also has that experience of state pressure and competing. This weekend, her Circle City championship experience will be from behind a camera.
“I have to be honest, I don’t contribute anything directly to the basketball team,” laughed Davis, whose dad, Chris, is an assistant coach in the basketball program. “Golf and basketball are different in conditioning, completely different from the team standpoint. I might be on the course and maybe one of my teammates is jumping up and down somewhere on the golf course cheering me on, but it doesn’t have anything to do with how I play. If someone doesn’t have the right attitude in basketball, it can certainly affect how they play.”
Oreo was not made available to the media for comment.