NW centerpiece

COMBO DEAL: Northwestern guard Madison Layden, left picture, and post Kendall Bostic, right, spearhead the Tiger girls basketball squad. The two combine to average 40.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 10 assists for the defending Class 3A state champions. Northwestern plays in the Rensselaer Regional on Saturday.

When Northwestern’s girls basketball team roared to the 2018 Class 3A state title, it set an all-time tournament record by blasting its opponents by an average margin of 42.86 points. No opponent came closer than 21 points.

The Tigers’ encore is off to a flying start.

With the dominant junior duo of point guard Madison Layden and post Kendall Bostic leading the charge, No. 1-ranked Northwestern beat West Lafayette 70-33 and beat Maconaquah 80-23 to claim a Sectional 20 three-peat.

Against the Red Devils, Layden had 29 points, seven steals, six assists and four rebounds and Bostic had 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Against the Braves in the final, Bostic had 26 points, nine rebounds, six steals, two assists and one block and Layden had 13 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, five steals and two blocks.

They had big freshman and sophomore seasons — they were Kokomo Tribune All-Area co-Most Valuable Players both seasons and all-state picks last season — but both have raised their games to an even higher level this season in leading the Tigers to a 22-3 record and a spot in Saturday’s Rensselaer Regional.

“It speaks volumes, I think, of their work ethic,” Northwestern coach Kathie Layden said. “Every year since they’ve been in high school, you’ve seen them improve on different things every season. Sometimes players have a tendency to plateau. I think it speaks a lot about how hard they’ve worked in the offseason, seeing their games expand.”

The Tigers needed more from their stars, too, as they reloaded following last season. Starting guard Sarah Vas and top backup guard Morgan Mercer both graduated and starting forward Taylor Boruff transferred. Further, reliable post Stephanie Burns, who was moving into a full-time starting role, saw her senior season cut short by a knee injury in the second game of the new season.

Still, the Tigers dominated in the regular season. They won the prestigious Hall of Fame Classic, spent time as No. 1 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association’s all-class poll and repeated as Hoosier Conference champions. They impressively went 6-1 against Class 4A opponents.

“It’s definitely been a very fun season playing better competition. Now I’m just excited for the tournament,” Madison Layden said after the sectional championship.

Purdue recruit Layden is averaging 21.5 points, 7 assists, 5.1 steals and 4.8 rebounds per game. Michigan State recruit Bostic is averaging 18.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocked shots per game.

Both players are efficient scorers. Layden shoots 51.8 percent from the field overall, 43.5 percent from 3-land and 90.8 percent from the foul line, putting her on pace to accomplish the rare feat of shooting better than 50-40-90. Bostic, meanwhile, is money when she gets the ball in the high or low post. She is shooting 68.4 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line.

The 2020 Miss Basketball candidates both reached milestones during the regular season.

Layden reached 1,000 career points against Cass on Nov. 17 and became the program’s all-time leading scorer against Oak Hill on Jan. 9.

“It’s awesome, but I just love to win as a team. That’s my main goal,” she said.

Bostic reached 1,000 career points against Kentucky squad Glen Oak on Dec. 1. She is No. 2 on the program’s all-time scoring list.

“It’s really cool,” Bostic said of reaching 1,000 points. “It’s always been one of my goals, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. The passes they give me in the post are unbelievable. A lot of it has been just getting me the ball where I can get it and score.”

Layden and Bostic are Nos. 4 and 12, respectively, and rising on the Howard County girls all-time scoring list.

Both players are quick to credit teammates like senior guard Katie Neher (9.4 ppg, 2.3 apg), junior guard Klair Merrell (7.6 ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.0 rpg) and junior forward Sarah Heaver (4 ppg, 2.8 rpg) for their roles in the team’s success.

“We work so hard in practice,” Bostic said. “It’s really, really competitive every day. Everyone is pushing somebody else. It’s a really neat environment because we all care about each other, we all push each other, but none of us are over the top with it. We just push each other every day.”

Kathie Layden points to that mindset as a key to the Tigers’ success, which includes a 74-8 record since the start of the 2016-17 season.

“To have a team that has their leaders in Madison and Kendall, but yet has so many different girls who are willing do whatever it takes for the team to win ... you just don’t find that type of attitude and that type of camaraderie. It’s a special group,” she said.

After clicking on all cylinders in the sectional, the Tigers will go for a regional repeat Saturday.

“The sky’s the limit with us,” Bostic said. “If we keep working hard, keep our head on straight, I think we’re going to go big places.”

Bryan Gaskins is the Tribune's sports editor. He may be reached at bryan.gaskins@kokomotribune.com or 765-454-8567.

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Bryan Gaskins is the Kokomo Tribune's sports editor. He joined the sports department in a full-time capacity in September 1999 and moved into the editor's role in January 2010.