NorthWood seniors close on, off the basketball court
Posted: 02/14/2013 at 4:00 pm
By: Steve Krah
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Maddie Schwartz brings the ball up court during the NorthWood Sectional semifinal game Friday, Feb. 8. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
Savannah Bley brings the ball up court during the NorthWood Sectional semifinal game Friday, Feb. 8. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)
NorthWood’s Taylor Stutzman brings the ball up court as Memorial’s Victoria Kyle defends at the Panther Pit Dec. 7. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
That’s what connects the three seniors — Savannah Bley, Maddie Schwartz and Taylor Stutzman — on the regional-bound NorthWood High School girls basketball team.
While there is no blood relationship between the third-year letterwinners and they each have siblings — Bley is the oldest of four; Schwartz is the oldest of two; and Stutzman is the youngest of four — the trio knows each other like sisters.
They have been on courts together since their early elementary days and all three are in the same small group at Nappanee Missionary Church.
In a word, these Black Swish seniors are tight.
“We’re good friends,” says Stutzman, a 5-foot-2 shooting guard. “Knowing each other well definitely helps out on the floor. It helps knowing each other’s temperament and knowing what makes the other person tick.”
Schwartz, a 5-4 starting guard who often splits playing time with reserve Stutzman, agrees.
“It really helps to know how the other person thinks,” says Schwartz. “We’re all different, so it’s good to know how you can encourage one person in one way and another person in another (way).
“I know that when Savannah gets that certain facial expression I know when I need to calm her down or pick her up,” Schwartz continued. “I can always tell when she is feeling a certain way.”
Bley appreciates the uplifting gestures.
“They are so encouraging,” says Bley, a 6-1 starting forward/center. “They know right away when I get down. They know what to say to me to bring me back into focus and why I’m playing basketball. It’s to have fun and glorify the Lord.
“They are great ladies to be around,” she added.
NorthWood head coach Steve Neff is glad he has his senior leaders.
“It’s been really pleasant having those three seniors around,” says Neff. “The parents should be proud. They are really good girls.”
The relationship has helped No. 3-ranked NorthWood (22-3) — a winner of 17 straight games — earn a place opposite No. 11 Fort Wayne Concordia (17-6) in the first game of the Class 3A Bellmont Regional at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16. The other semifinal pits No. 2 Hamilton Heights (20-2) against No. 5 Norwell (21-3). The championship is slated for 8 p.m.
A year ago at Bellmont, the same four school qualified for the regional — NorthWood topped Norwell 54-49 and Concordia bested Hamilton Heights 67-44 in the semifinals before Concordia downed NorthWood 53-40 on the way to a state championship.
Bley, who carries a 3.75 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and is committed to play basketball and study at Taylor University in Upland, defines her role as a facilitator and team player.
“(I try to) make other people look better,” says Bley. “I’m an offensive rebounder so if somebody misses, I want to pick that up and put it back in.
“I will post up when I need to and be strong and shoot when I need to, but if there is a teammate closer to the basket I’m going to give the ball up to her,” she says.
Neff notes that Bley, who is also a standout in volleyball, has worked hard to be the basketball player she has become and has a bright future on the hardwood.
“She’s got her best years ahead of her,” says Neff. “Taylor got a real steal.”
Neff recognizes Schwartz’s love for volleyball and Stutzman’s passion for soccer and prizes the efforts they have put into basketball this winter.
Schwartz and Stutzman, who are both 4.0 students and valedictorian candidates, look at their roles for the Black Swish as similar.
“I’ve tried to be an encourager and a leader on the team,” says Schwartz, who plans to attend Taylor as a student only. “I don’t score a lot, but that gives me the opportunity to pass the ball to my teammates. (I try to) make sure our chemistry is flowing well together. I will take the shot when I have it.”
Stutzman, who hopes to be a student only at the University of Kentucky or Bellarmine University in Louisville, considers her the quietest of the seniors but a positive force.
“I try to be the encourager and keep everyone’s spirits up,” says Stutzman. “I’m working hard and setting a good example for the other girls.
“(Maddie and I are) both not very tall and we’re both pretty quick. We’re both always looking for the open person.”
Neff looks back on the season and sees lows and highs.
The low point may have been the loss to Plymouth.
“That was a game I thought we should have won and the girls knew it,” says Neff of the Dec. 15 setback. “Our jump start was probably the (Dec. 21) Washington game when we came back and won in overtime after we tried to give it away.
“We knew we had something going right when we won the (Bankers) Classic over at Northridge (on Dec. 28),” he says. “There were quality teams there and that gave us a lot of confidence.”
NorthWood went on to top Northridge again (Jan. 12) and win at NLC foe Goshen (Jan. 19) and give Warsaw its only loss of the season (Jan. 26) before earning the program’s 23rd sectional championship.
Schwartz calls the first Northridge game a turning point.
“We had been struggling a little before that,” says Schwwartz. “That was where we really clicked together. That’s when our chemistry really came together. We really started playing for each other more. Our defense really improved from there on.”
Bley remembers when she first thought this could be a special season.
“I knew early in the summer this could be a great year,” says Bley. “My hope since I was little was getting to and winning state.”
Two wins Saturday and the Black Swish will get a little closer to that goal.
Saturday, Feb. 16
Class 3A Bellmont
Fort Wayne Concordia (17-6) vs. NorthWood (22-3), 10 a.m.
Hamilton Heights (20-2) vs. Norwell (21-3), following first game.
Championship, 8 p.m.
Merrillville (22-1) vs. Lake Central (16-7), 10:30 a.m.
Penn (19-4) vs. Warsaw (22-1), following first game.
Championship, 8:30 p.m.
Westview (15-8) vs. Fort Wayne Luers (12-11), 10:30 a.m.
Whiting (20-3) vs. Boone Grove (17-6), following first game.
Championship, 8 p.m.