Before we get to the Outside the Huddle All-Area Team and our end-of-year awards, Bounce wanted to take some time and take a last glance at area conferences and hand out some league-specific hardware.
Next up is the NE8.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Addison Baxter, Columbia City
There was no player in the NE8 that was as consistently entertaining as Baxter in my opinion and that is saying something considering the level of talent that the NE8 had. Baxter just played at a special level all season and that was mostly indicated by the fact that she was number one on opposing scouting reports and still constantly was able to be the most effective player on the court.
HONORABLE MENTION: Kennedy Fuelling, Norwell; Taylor Double, Huntington North
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Taylor Double Huntington North
Huntington North finished fourth in the NE8, but until I just typed that, you may not have even known it. Why? The Vikings were a constant thorn in the side of everyone they played. Double was the instigator of all of that, raising her game yet again as a senior and helping/allowing those around her to grow at a high rate and be impactful in moments. Double is valuable in so many ways on the court and as a leader and it showed with the Vikings’ rate of success.
HONORABLE MENTION: Kennedy Fuelling, Norwell; Ashley Cox, DeKalb; Addison Baxter, Columbia City; Kyndra Sheets, Columbia City; Sydney Keane, Bellmont
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Makenzie Fuess, Norwell
Norwell is always going to have depth in their talent, that is just how their program is built. Beside an Indiana Junior All-Star, Fuess was able to really bolster the top end of a Norwell team that helped ensure no drop off from last season. Her ability to help space out the floor and attack at multiple levels was impressive and difference maker in Norwell’s push at the top of the conference and to win a Sectional title.
HONORABLE MENTION: Marissa Trout, Huntington North; Gracie Fields, Huntington North; Janiya Johnson, New Haven
COACH OF THE YEAR: Amy Shearer, Columbia City
Any time a team wins the conference, their coach gets the first look here as the best coach in the conference. Its not always the case, but it was this season with Shearer, leading Columbia City to a dominant stance in the NE8. Taking a senior-less team and doing what Shearer did with Columbia City isn’t easy, no matter how high their talent level. There is still a lot to learn and growing pains and Shearer was able to maneuver her lineup to play to her girl’s strengths each night. When it came down to clutch moments in games, Shearer’s sets and the patience she helped instill led to some major clutch moments on the court.
HONORABLE MENTION: Eric Thornton, Norwell; Andy Heim, Bellmont; Matt Hinds, Huntington North
GAME OF THE YEAR: Bellmont at Columbia City
This was just a war of attrition and almost always is in recent memory. While other “rivalries” may take more focus sometimes in the NE8, these two programs almost always put on the best show of the year. It came off a week without games for the Eagles, while Bellmont had played two days prior and was just getting into showing how sharp they were for the second half of the season.
Bellmont had the edge early, even leading 17-8 after the first quarter. But the game became super close the rest of the way as the two teams exchanged baskets trip after trip. With a little over 20 seconds to go, Sydney Keane gave Bellmont the lead by one at the free throw line. On the next trip, Kyndra Sheets missed at the rim, allowing Bellmont the rebound and Hailey Cole went to the free throw line with five and a half seconds left, but she missed allowing Addison Baxter to grab the rebound and race to the other end where she was fouled.
In the end, it was Columbia City at the line that closed the game, Baxter hitting two free throws with 0.6 seconds left to win 47-46.
EARLY 2024 NE8 CHAMPION PREDICTION: Columbia City
Everyone is back. No, not everyone of consequence. Everyone.
So as a team who ran through the NE8 this season, how can you count them out next year? The Eagles have back three All-State players in Addison Baxter, Kyndra Sheets and Molly Baker. Next to them, Faith Frey and Tessa Tonkel have become players that would be the best player on most teams.
The margin for error in the NE8 is usually small because there are so many good programs and coaches. But with Columbia City’s roster, that margin is much bigger. This is a mentally tough lineup who do the right things at the right times. They run their sets, they execute and they get things done.