Boys basketball season is over, but just like last year, I am not quite done with things yet. So over the next few days, Bounce will be giving out some awards of his own, solely of my own opinion, about each of the four main conferences in our area and beyond. Don’t forget that Outside the Huddle will award their official Player of the Year and Coach of the Year coming up soon.
Today, we set our sights on the Northeast Corner Conference.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Landen Jordan, Churubusco
Every time OTH talks MVP, it is important to point out that we focus on exactly what it stands for and it isn’t “BEST PLAYER.” Who was the most valuable to their team with what they provide? Sometimes it means the best player, sometimes it doesn’t, but specifically it is who is MOST VALUABLE to a team’s overall success. I am NOT naming a traditional conference player of the year, but focusing in this column on overall value.
And boom, we have an easy choice in Bounce’s mind. It helps when you are so gargantuan, but Jordan’s contributions are at such a high level for this Busco team. In terms on value, you have to know that his was at a very high premium for Churubusco to continue their level of play throughout this season and win another postseason title.
He scored in single digits just once and had single digit rebounding only seven times versus four games where he had 20. or more rebounds. At the pinnacle of his game, Jordan was unstoppable in the NECC, posting double doubles even in their two conference losses.
Honorable Mention: Jackson Paul, Churubusco; Austin Cripe, West Noble; Gabe Trevino, Eastside; Connor Essegian, Central Noble; Brayden Bontrager, Lakeland
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Mason Yoder, Westview
When Westview, leading the NECC early, needed a leader to step up, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when their last name was Yoder. Mason Yoder certainly turned his game up to a whole new level this season after being little more than a role player next to cousin Charlie previously. He averaged a team high 14 points per game in leading the Warriors to a kind of surprise share of the toughest conference title.
Yoder also averaged 4.2 rebounds and a steal per game, never shy at taking the big shot. There were many times down the stretch that teams came close to knocking off Westview, but Yoder’s play was a significant reason why that didn’t happen save for one hiccup at the end of the season. To go from role player to top guy on the NECC champs is substantial.
Honorable Mention: Lyndon Miller, Westview; Jackson Andrews, Central Noble; Ben Keil, Lakeland; Logan Brace, Fremont; Braedon Helms, Fairfield; Mason Douglas, Lakeland
MOST UNDERRATRED: Ethan Bontrager, Fremont
You could almost name any Fremont player here. This team took on a completely new dynamic this season with a new coach and despite not having much roster turnover from 2019-20, they won a Sectional title and were competitive so often in the loaded NECC, beating co-champion Westview down the stretch.
But while guys like Logan Brace and Gabel Pentecost got more of their due, we look at Bontrager as one to grow on. He can be a very dangerous shooter when he heats up and we all saw that in Fremont’s regional loss to eventual Class 1A state runner up Kouts. His major second half was a big reason why Fremont almost came back and won that game, altering the entire state tournament in Class 1A. And he still has plenty of time to get better. Overlook Bontrager in the future at your own risk, we think plenty of people overlooked him this season already and it cost them.
Honorable Mention: Luke McClure, Churubusco; Ryan Schroeder, Central Noble; Brian Parrish, Angola; Brady Yoder, Westview; Mason Douglas, Lakeland; Logan Gard, Central Noble
COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Paul, Churubusco
If there was ever a close race for a top coach, the NECC would be the place. Two of my top four shared the conference and two won Sectional titles. And while a conventional wisdom would say that the conference champs should have the frontrunner, let Bounce look at it a different way for you.
Chris Paul went from having a loaded, deep team in 2019-20 to having a partially bare cupboard in 2020-21. Yes, his three returners were all very, very good and they helped a lot. But behind them, Paul had to rely on and prepare a group of freshmen. So we are talking about taking three guys who played middle school basketball last season and have them ready to A) not hurt the team and B) be ready to contribute in what Bounce felt was the best area conference from top to bottom.
It was an unenviable task and yes, the Eagles fell short in both the regular season and NECC Tournaments, but they are the ones that claimed the ultimate prize, getting through a Sectional with both of the conference champions in it to claim a second straight Sectional for the first title in program history. And while Landen Jordan, Jackson Paul and Luke McClure were a heck of a cornerstone to start with, the game isn’t played 3-on-3 and Paul working the high school newcomers in as he did to win a postseason title is incredibly impressive.
Honorable Mention: Ed Bentley, Westview; John Bodey, Central Noble; Josh Stuckey, Fremont
GAME OF THE YEAR: Central Noble vs. Churubusco, March 5 Sectional
What else could it be but these two rivals? They had three chances to produce a game of the year and they certainly proved it with title hopes on the line in the Sectional semi final. Central Noble won the first two games on January 13 and 29. Those games weren’t a let down per say but they didn’t seem to hold pace with what the two of them did against each other in the 2019-20 season, so we weren’t sure they would get a game of the year candidate in.
But with a Sectional title game appearance hanging the balance in March, things were forced to change. After Central Noble outscored Busco 148-125 combined in the first two games, the Eagles were forced to slow things down and play at a different pace to preserve their season. It also forced the Cougars into a half court game. That favored Busco as they looked inside to Landen Jordan while Central Noble tried to get out on the break with Connor Essegian breaking off on occasion and Conner Lemmon being able to find his range to battle Busco some as well.
It really ended up being a cat and mouse game with the Eagles finding more success in the half court led by Jackson Paul, but the final outcome stayed in doubt until the bitter end, which always makes for a great rivalry game.
Honorable Mention: Central Noble at Westview, Dec. 10; Eastside at Westview, Jan. 29; Westview at West Noble, Feb. 3; Fremont at Westview, Feb. 23; Angola at Fremont, Jan. 9; Angola at Eastside, Feb. 19; Churubusco at West Noble, Dec. 12; Eastside at Churubusco, Feb. 26; Lakeland at West Noble, March 5
BOUNCE’S PICK TO BE 2022 NECC CHAMPS: Central Noble
Replacing Sawyer Yoder will be a tough pill to swallow. He was a steady bookend for the program that had seen its transition into championship team as one of the leaders. But behind him, everyone of major consequence is back including Indiana Junior All-Star snub Connor Essegian, who has proven countless times he is one of the best scorers in the state. And when you have someone like Essegian leading the way, that is a great place to build on.
The team also returns multi-year starters Logan Gard and Ryan Schroeder, who have both become reliable pieces in intangible areas. Conner Lemmon can roll into a guard position too and hit shots and the soon to be sophomore class, headed by Jackson Andrews and Sam Essegian, is top notch to keep the Cougars rolling.
Someone will have to step into Yoder’s role with Westview, West Noble, Fremont, Eastside and others still very much breathing down the Cougars’ necks. But right now, as we sit in April, this title is Central Noble’s to lose in my humble opinion.
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