Northwestern’s girls basketball team already owns a spot in IHSAA history following back-to-back Class 3A state championships.
The Tigers have the talent to chase a rare state three-peat in 2020, but they will have to take a different road in the tournament. They are in Class 4A for the next two years under the IHSAA’s success factor.
“We are excited and ready for the challenge of [Class 4A],” coach Kathie Layden said. “I believe it allows the girls to set some new goals, rather than try to defend what they have already accomplished in 3A the past two years.”
Northwestern is in Sectional 7 with Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport, Marion and McCutcheon. Northwestern beat Marion in the 2019 Class 3A North Semistate. Logan will host the sectional.
Kathie Layden will build her eighth Tiger squad around the terrific senior trio of 6-foot-1 forward Kendall Bostic (Michigan State recruit), 6-1 point guard Madison Layden (Purdue) and 5-9 guard Klair Merrell (Indiana Wesleyan). Bostic and Madison Layden are three-time KT All-Area co-Most Valuable Players and Merrell is a two-time All-Area player.
“They look stronger than I have ever seen them,” Kathie Layden said. “They offer so many things offensively and defensively for us. Those three have been the catalyst in the success of our program and are looking to have a successful senior season.”
The Tigers roared to a 27-3 record last season. They scored 66.5 points per game and held opponents to 37.6 points per game. Their offensive efficiency included 51.8% shooting from the field and 18.6 assists per game.
Madison Layden averaged 21.9 points, 6.7 assists, 5.1 steals and 4.8 rebounds per game. She accomplished the rare 50-40-90 line by shooting 51.5% from the field overall, 44% from 3-point range and 90.4% from the free throw line. Her 80 made 3-pointers ranked No. 4 in the state.
Bostic averaged 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.8 blocked shots per game. She shot 68% from the field and 80.3% from the charity stripe. Her 253 made field goals ranked No. 2 in the state.
Madison Layden and Bostic received multiple all-state honors last season. The Associated Press’ all-state team, which is not divided by school size or grade level, had both players on the first five with Layden topping the voting. They head into the new season as Miss Basketball candidates. Layden has 1,593 career points and is on pace to become the first Howard County player to reach 2,000. Bostic has 1,418 career points.
Merrell averaged 7.2 points, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game last season. She shot 47.4% from 3-land.
The Tigers also return senior forward Sarah Heaver (3.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and junior guard Ellie Boyer (2.7 ppg) from their regular rotation.
“Both are recovering from knee injuries,” Kathie Layden noted. “Heaver is cleared and will likely fill the starting position she earned late last season. Ellie is not far behind and will be ready mid-season if things continue to progress. She definitely has the potential to work into a starting role as well.”
McKenna Layden, a 6-1 freshman, is a promising addition. Kathie Layden’s younger daughter provides the Tigers with another weapon.
“Kenna’s versatility is a key,” Kathie Layden said. “She has the ability to play multiple positions and has a great understanding of the game for a freshman. Adding another 6-foot player to the roster is a bonus, for sure.”
Kathie Layden said 6-foot sophomore post Leah Carter and sophomore guard Audrey Koetter “will see quality minutes” and senior guard Kate Miller and junior guard Jena Loer also are in the mix for playing time.
“Depth will depend on how quickly the younger girls learn their roles and play defense,” Kathie Layden said. “However, we had a very successful summer against some of the top teams in a few different states.”
Northwestern enters the season ranked No. 2 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association’s poll.
The Tigers’ schedule once again is loaded with quality opponents. There are trips to Kentucky (Dec. 7) and Illinois (Jan. 18) for single games against opponents from those states. Another highlight of the schedule is Columbus North’s tournament on Dec. 27-28. The Tigers return to the tourney after winning it two years ago.
The season begins tonight with a visit to Lafayette Jeff. The Tigers’ home opener is Saturday against Twin Lakes. It will be varsity only, starting at 7 p.m.
“It has been an interesting start to the season with the success of the volleyball team and the overlap of the first week of practice,” said Kathie Layden, who coached the volley team and had several basketball players on the team. “On a positive note, the girls have been playing together long enough they are familiar with our system and what is expected from them.”