NAPPANEE — As Will Stueve bears down on the end of his high school basketball career, he keeps getting better and better.
The NorthWood senior has done it with his athleticism and his analytical ability has helped the Panthers (21-2) set a school single-season victory record, share a Northern Lakes Conference title, win a sectional and land in the Class 3A Blackford Regional on Saturday, March 15.
After a 24-point, 10-rebound effort Feb. 25 against 4A powerhouse Penn, Stueve produced 18 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in the Wawasee Sectional clincher against West Noble.
Stueve was seen calling for the basketball against West Noble and in the semifinal win against Tippecanoe Valley.
"Will Stueve is a unique player because as gifted physically as he is, his strength is probably his mental components of the game," says NorthWood head coach Aaron Wolfe. "I feel that Will does a great job mentally of reading situations and understanding where he can be successful."
"I've been finishing a lot better and scoring more points," says Stueve. "There's a sense of urgency at the end of games, at the end of the season. You don't want the game to be your last so you play your best at the end. You don't want to go out on a loss and only one team in every class gets to go out on top."
Wolfe has watched the 6-foot-5, 185-pound Stueve raise his game down the stretch of the 2013-14 season.
"We have needed every part of his game," says Wolfe. "Will is doing a better job of attacking the basket off the dribble. He has shooting range, which he showed in the sectional. A combination of all of those components has allowed him to play at a high level."
Stueve credits his coach for developing his mental game.
"Coach Wolfe does a great job with game-planning and scouting," says Stueve. "One of the things we work on is developing the right habits so in the clutches, you don't have to think too much. You have a habit of doing the right thing every time in the right situation."
Through diligence, Stueve has become a different player.
"In middle school, I was always a post with my back to the basket," says Stueve. "Recently, I've been working on driving and shooting more. My size or strength is not going to be the biggest asset so I have to be more athletic than the other guy."
Wolfe notes that Stueve has long arms and is deceptively quick.
The Bethel College recruit's ability to score from the high post and short corner areas, his passing, his ability to create separation with his dribbling and his decision making have all combined to make him a threat to opposing defenses.
Assistants A.J. Risedorph and Phil Lechlitner work with NorthWood's frontcourt players on their skills.
Risedorph has noticed Stueve's tendency to rise to the occasion.
"He seems to get better as the season progresses," says Risedorph. "It seems like when the lights got brighter for him, he really did step up for us."
NorthWood coaches use pads in practice to simulate contact. This and daily practice tests against muscular teammates Zach Zurcher and Dakiyron Fox have also honed Stueve.
"He knows how to use his body," says Risedorph of Stueve. "His balance, when he's inside dealing with all the contact, is by far the best I've ever seen. To be able to play through contact and finish, he is definitely top notch."