2022 GIRLS HOOPS PREVIEW: No. 1 Northrop Bruins

Northrop’s Saniya Jackson drives to the basket during January 28’s game against Homestead. (Photo by Leslie Palmer)

Is Northrop on the verge of changing the balance of power in this area for the first time in close to a decade?

That is what we think at Outside the Huddle, with Coach Katie Jackson sitting on a multitude of riches on the roster entering the season.

Might this group have what it takes to upend Homestead and be the top squad in northeast Indiana? It sure looks the part on paper.

Leading the way are Coach Jackson’s twins – Saniya and Nevaeh Jackson – who combined to average close to 30 points and 17 rebounds a season ago for a squad that won 15 games last season. Both are tall, rangy players who can finish at the hoop, fight for rebounds and step out on the perimeter and knock down a three. The twins hit a collective 65 threes as juniors and both shoot over 70 percent from the free throw line.

“(Saniya) is a pure scorer,” Coach Jackson said. “She will be asked to do even more this year…with her ability to guard positions one through four.

“(Nevaeh) is a lockdown defender who led our team in steals and blocks last year. She is absolutely tenacious on the defensive side of the ball and turns into points in transition.”

Joining the senior party this year is center Brooklyn McLemore, a move-in from Michigan, who gives the Bruins a true, back-to-the-basket type in the post.

“Brooklyn is a force in the paint,” Coach Jackson said. “She can run, defend, rebound and score. (She is) a hard matchup for anyone on either side of the ball.”

The junior class is ripe with talent – with guards Riley Pepple (5.5 ppg) and Niya Bell (3.1 ppg) back. Both saw significant action as sophomores and will be relied upon to take that next step in their development.

“Riley is coming into her own after her transition (from Angola after her freshman year) and looking like the Riley Pepple that has terrorized northeast Indiana,” Coach Jackson said. “We look for her to do more than just contribute.”

Two junior transfers enter the equation, with Destini Craig now at Northrop after averaging close to 16 ppg last year for Snider, as well as Lexi Castator who nearly averaged double digits with Carroll a season ago.

“Destini is the fastest player end to end and has an innate ability to score in transition,” Coach Jackson said. “She is a defensive terror and has developed her confidence in her shot.

“Lexi is a natural headache for most to try and guard. She will run the point for us, but also get looks at the shooting guard spot.”

The depth is obvious when you look at seven juniors and seniors, all of whom have played plenty of varsity basketball in their careers, although admittedly not all together.

The Bruins also add a few more new faces in senior Cerenity Adams and freshman point guard Swynn Jackson.

The talent is there for this to be one of the best Northrop teams of the last 20 years dating back to the regional title squad of 2002. The program has went 13 years without a postseason title of any kind.

Coach Jackson is looking to bring Northrop back to the forefront in her second season, despite losing Amanda Thatcher (10 ppg) and J’Asia Scott (7 ppg, 2.9 apg, 4.2 spg) to graduation.

“This pre-season we have focused more on climate and culture than last year as we try to mix such a talented group of veteran players with an incredible freshman class,” Coach Jackson said. “As long as we can continue to build as a team, this could be an exciting year for us!”

WHY #1?

With a mix of top-level returning talent, a few transfers and a stellar group of ninth graders, the Bruins have the best roster in the area. What makes it even more dangerous is the fact that it has a solid mix of shooters, ballhandlers, post players and overall athleticism. There is nothing that this squad cannot do on either end of the floor.

Over the years, Homestead coach Rod Parker has done a tremendous job in managing talent and coaching his deep teams up in a way where they work together despite there being just one basketball. That is Coach Jackson’s mission, to instill in her squad the importance of team basketball over individual accolades.


Jan. 27 vs. Homestead

The regular-season finale as a crucial game? Yes.

For one, Northrop has not beaten Homestead since 2005 – with a string of 19-consecutive losses to the Spartans.

To be the best, you have to beat the best. Carroll was able to do just that a few years ago when it won the SAC.

For the Bruins to truly ascend to the top of the league in the minds of many, it needs to knock off Homestead, especially considering it could be a regional obstacle just a few weeks later after this matchup.


Lexi Castator, junior

Make no mistake, Castator has played plenty of basketball with most of her new teammates at Northrop. Coming over from Carroll where she was a year behind the Jackson twins before they headed to Northrop to be with their mom, the junior isn’t entering a completely-new situation.

But in slotting in to the point guard spot, that makes Castator’s ability to run the offense and distribute the ball to a myriad of scoring options very important. With her, so goes the Bruins offense. If Castator can take that next step in her development in a new environment, it makes the goals set by Coach Jackson with this potentially-special group even more attainable.

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