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 NECC.
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Madi Vice, Central Noble and Brea Garber, Fairfield
Sometimes, decisions are too hard to make. This was one of them. The NECC had three players you could plug into this spot and you wouldn’t bat an eye at any of them. In the end, I gave in and split the difference.
We first look at Vice here on the strength of what she was able to accomplish for herself and to get her team into a spot that not many people expected them to be in.
Vice was sensational all season long, regardless of the opponents and put her stamp on every game to lead the Cougars to a three loss season that had them close to minutes away from being a state finals team. She averaged 18.4 points per game and nabbed just about any area honor you could think of.
Garber meanwhile led her team to a state title and set records for most free throws made and attempted in a Class 3A state title game in the process. She averaged 15 points per game and was the primary option for a state title team.
Gaber was also recognized with the IHSAA’s Mental Attitude Award after the state finals game and surpassed 1,000 career points as a senior while also averaging 4.1 steals for the top defensive team in the state, that allowed just 28.77 points per game.
Call it a cop out, but they both deserve this.
HONORABLE MENTION: Bailey Kelham, Garrett
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Bailey Kelham, Garrett
he value of Kelham was at an all-time high this season. After the graduation of some of the best players in Garrett history, Kelham was tasked with leading a group who had next to no varsity experience. She did so with some overall bumps for the team, but she was stellar throughout and became Garrett’s best all-time scorer, regardless of gender, and a top three scorer in the history of DeKalb County. By doing that, she set a high level example for her teammates and they excelled, improving throughout the season and winning a somewhat surprise Sectional title with Kelham at front and center.
There is zero question, or should be, about Kelham being the most valuable player to her team in the NECC.
HONORABLE MENTION: Morgan Gawthrop, Fairfield; Madi Vice, Central Noble; Peyton Hartsough, Lakeland
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Mykayla Mast, Westview
Westview went from a team at the bottom to a team that was giving NECC competition some tough challenges nightly. No longer an easy out, the Warriors even made it to the Sectional title game. Their 10-15 year was headline by Mast and her team leading 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. While other players stepped up too, Mast’s ability to change games as a freshman has helped reinstall excitement in the Warrior program.
HONORABLE MENTION: Grace Swank, Central Noble; Addy Parr, Fremont; Sydnee Kessler, Eastside; Hope Bortner, Westview
COACH OF THE YEAR: Brodie Garber, Fairfield
The Fairfield Falcons are state champions. That is something that has not been said in any sport ever until this year. Brodie Garber hasn’t just built a quality to powerhouse program, he has found ways to be consistent AND live up to the hype with his groups. Neither of those are easy or usual things to see. Garber ran through a gauntlet of a season with a solid group who worked to exploit opposing team weaknesses and come out stronger on the other end. What he has done at Fairfield is more that impressive and doing it in 3A a year after being in 2A was a coaching run for the ages.
HONORABLE MENTION: Sam Malcom, Central Noble; Bob Lapadot, Garrett
GAME OF THE YEAR: Eastside vs. Lakeland, NECC Tournament
This is a game that is probably going to get overlooked a lot of times because it was in the early stages of a NECC Tournament that neither team was expected to contend in. But these teams went to battle in a 67-57 Eastside victory in overtime.
This was one of just three overtime games played by conference teams all season. Lakeland had won the regular season matchup by four and saw Peyton Hartsough put up 27 points and hit six threes in this overtime tournament rematch.
But it was Paige Traxler who, while not outscoring Hartsough, led the way by putting up 23 for Eastside. The Blazers scored 17 overtime points after scoring just nine in the fourth quarter that had left the door open for Lakeland to get back into the game.
EARLY 2024 NECC CHAMPION PREDICTION: Fairfield
The loss of Brea Garber and the stellar 2023 senior class will weigh heavy at Fairfield. But as was said when talking about the Falcons’ coach, this year wasn’t some isolated run. Three times in the last six seasons, Fairfield has made it at least to the semi state round.
While that may not be in the cards in 2023-2024, they still have a hoard of confidence and momentum pushing them in the NECC.
Again next year, this will be an interesting conference but with Fairfield’s current trajectory, they are the early pick as repeat champions.