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April 16, 2013

GIRLS BASKETBALL: Whitnessing greatness

Whitney Jennings headlines All-Loganland girls basketball team

A common refrain of Logansport girls basketball coach Jerry Hoover when talking about star guard Whitney Jennings has been “we don’t know how good she is.”

After the first three years of Jennings’ career at Logansport, things are starting to clear up about just how good Jennings really is.

How good? Her mind-boggling numbers suggest she is on pace to be one of the greatest guards in the history of the state.

Jennings has scored 1,778 points and dished out 498 assists with her senior season left to play. She is already Logansport’s all-time leading scorer in girls basketball.

“The best way to put it right now is that she’s a Big Ten guard,” Hoover said. “As a sophomore she signed to be a Big Ten guard. That’s pretty impressive credentials right there, where they take you as a sophomore to play in the Big Ten. That’s pretty big. We’ll see what happens next year.”

Indeed, Jennings signed to play at Iowa just before this season began. She was first offered the summer following her freshman year.

Add it all up, it’s not too shabby for a point guard that stands in at 5-foot-5, 125 pounds.

Jennings led the Berries to their best season in school history as they went 25-2, won their second straight North Central Conference title and their first sectional title since 2007. They finished as regional finalists in Class 4A.

When things were going well, Jennings led a spectacular basketball ballet for the Berries. Thousands of fans can attest.

While the highlights of the season were many, two games in particular showed Jennings’ ability and heart. One took place at the prestigious Hall of Fame Classic. The Berries had just had one of those games against Evansville Mater Dei when they didn’t play well in an early morning game following a long road trip to New Castle and Mater Dei was on fire.

But the Berries didn’t stay on the mat for long. They bounced back with a win over Hamilton Southeastern squad that featured the eventual McDonald’s national player of the year, Taya Reimer.

In an illustration of how strong basketball is in Indiana, while Reimer was named the national player of the year, Browsburg’s Stephanie Mavunga was named Miss Basketball. Neither led the voting on the AP’s all-state team. That honor would go to Mater Dei junior Maura Muensterman, an Indiana recruit. Jennings was the only other underclassman named to the five-member all-state first team, as Muensterman and Jennings appear to be the top candidates for the 2014 Miss Basketball honor entering their senior seasons. They will be teammates on the Junior All-Star team this spring.

The other game that stands out for Jennings was the quadruple-double at Twin Lakes in a 83-27 win. It wasn’t just any quadruple-double, as she scored 40 points to go with 12 assists, 12 steals and 10 rebounds against a Class 3A opponent that won 12 games on the season.

Jennings currently ranks 63rd in state history in scoring according to the IHSAA’s website, and she’s already 10th all time in assists according to the HickoryHusker Book of Indiana High School Basketball Records.

This season she finished fourth in the state in points (637), first in assists (211) and seventh in steals (113).

She enters her senior season needing just 222 points to reach 2,000 for her career, which would put her 26th all time. She needs 362 points to catch Richmond’s Lisa Shepherd, which would make her the NCC’s all-time leading scorer and put her at 15th all time in state history. Wawasee’s Shanna Zolman is the state’s all-time leading scorer at 3,085 points, which is likely out of reach. But if Jennings can match her 637-point total next season, it would give her 2,418 points, which would put her eighth all time.

Jennings does have a shot of getting the all-time assists record, as she needs 206 assists to pass all-time leader Cara Stuckey of Terre Haute South.

The only player in state history to be in the top 10 in both scoring and assists is South Bend Washington’s Skylar Diggins, who is third in both scoring (2,790) and assists (601).

Jennings averaged 23.6 points, 7.8 assists, 4.2 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game this season. She shot 47.8 percent from the field overall (222 of 464), 37.1 percent from 3-point range (43 of 116) and 84.3 percent from the foul line (150 of 178).

The Berries’ two losses this season were to Class 2A state champion Evansville Mater Dei and Class 4A state runner-up Fort Wayne South Side.

The Berries thought this was going to be their year, but they came up short in tournament play against a red-hot Fort Wayne South squad that let a second-half lead slip away in the state championship game against Bedford North Lawrence. According to some experts, Fort Wayne South had one of the best fullcourt pressure defenses in the history of the state.

“It was a fun year. We accomplished a lot,” Jennings said. “Although it didn’t end how we wanted it to, we’re still really proud of the year we had. It was a fun season to be a part of.

“Obviously our ultimate goal was to win a state championship, but winning sectionals this year was probably my biggest highlight of the year. That was the thing we wanted to accomplish the most. It’s a big deal to win a sectional in Indiana.”

The Berries will have two starters back next season in Jennings and Nakeya Penny and another player that saw quite a bit of varsity time, sophomore Sydney Bullard.

“We still have three girls returning who got playing time this year,” Jennings said. “The other spots, I don’t know who’s going to fill them. It depends on who’s going to work in the offseason to fill those spots, who wants to take them.

“I still think we have the potential to have another great year. I don’t know if anything can live up to the year we had this year, but we’ll come back next year and work extremely hard and see where that gets us.”

The Berries were a dominating team this season. Their 65.4 ppg ranked them ninth in the state and fifth in Class 4A, and their average margin of plus-24.6 ppg ranked them sixth in the state and tops in Class 4A.

The Berries were the darlings of Logansport this winter and drew huge crowds. The 2013 All-Loganland team includes the entire Berry starting five.

The following are capsules of the rest of the All-Loganland team in alphabetical order by last name.

Rachel Jennings, Logansport

Rachel Jennings was about as automatic as can be from 3-point range.

The sister connection of Whitney to Rachel for 3 was a staple during this current unprecedented run of success for the Logansport girls basketball program. Rachel’s graduation might be the only thing that can keep Whitney from becoming the state’s all-time assist leader.

Rachel finished as the Berries’ second leading scorer this season at 14.6 points per game. She averaged 2.92 made 3-pointers per game.

She canned 76 3-pointers on the season, second in the state behind BNL’s Brittani Rizzi. Rachel’s 45.5 shooting percentage behind the arc was also second in the state among Indiana’s top 3-point bombers.

The 5-foot-8 guard shot 84.4 percent from the foul line (65 of 77). She has signed to play basketball at Bethel College.

“I’m really happy she’s going to Bethel,” Hoover said. “We’re really going to miss her. Any time someone leads the state in the number of 3-point field goals made, that’s a big, big hole to fill. ... [Rachel and Rizzi] were tied going into the final game.”

Rachel secured her status as a Logan legend with key bombs that helped lift the Berries past Kokomo in the second half of the sectional final. She further cemented that status when she hit the game-winner against Snider in the regional semifinal.

Ingrid Martinez, Caston

Ingrid Martinez, a foreign exchange student from Mexico, certainly made the most of her time with the Caston girls basketball program.

All she accomplished was helping lead the Comets to a 13-10 record, their best season since they went 13-6 in 1997.

Martinez, a 5-9 junior guard, led the Comets in scoring (11 ppg), rebounding (7 rpg), steals (3 spg) and assists (3 apg).

“We asked her to do a lot of things. She was our leading rebounder and could run the point,” Caston coach Carl Davis said. “She was very versatile. She sees the court extremely well and it took us four or five games to learn how to catch some of her passes because she would throw it where we weren’t used to getting passes at. She’s definitely the kind of player that makes the players around her better.”

Davis certainly wasn’t expecting Martinez to be as good as she turned out being when he first heard about her. Unfortunately for the Comets, she’s set to return to her native Mexico following the end of the school year.

“We were pleasantly surprised and blessed to have her be a part of the program for a year,” Davis said.

Nakeya Penny, Logansport

Nakeya Penny was a sophomore sensation for the Berries. The 5-11 forward averaged 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. She shot 50.5 percent from the field.

Nakeya finished the season particularly strong, averaging 15.6 points per game in the Berries’ five tournament games.

She is on the verge of stardom. Her older sister, Jasmine, is Logan’s second all-time leading scorer and is now a standout at DePaul. Her older brother, Antonio, just finished as Logan’s second all-time leading scorer on the boys side.

Nakeya is just about keeping pace with Jasmine. She has scored 633 points after her first two seasons, while Jasmine scored 723.

Hoover said it’s up to Nakeya to determine just how good she can be.

“I think it’s hard to tell. If she picks up where she left off, my gosh, she has to be in the race to make the Junior All-Stars. Who else is getting rebounds and scoring like she is?” he said. “Then, you never know about players. It depends on how hard she works, how she develops in the offseason. That’s going to be the big key for her. She has the physical ability, she has the genes. God gave her great ability. As a coach you see a lot of players that God gave great ability that let it slip away. It’s a matter of what she does with it.”

Nakeya and Whitney Jennings have the potential of being one of the best 1-2 punches in the state next season. They have already displayed a special connection on the court of knowing how to destroy opposing defenses. Hoover has a wealth of basketball knowledge and said he’s been studying the top college teams in the country on how to exploit such talent utilizing offenses such as the pick-and-roll. The dynamic duo no doubt will be the focus of opposing defenses, and players such as Bullard and others will have to be ready to take advantage.

Hoover is looking for Nakeya to improve her overall game to be even more a force next season.

“She’s going to have to play outside for us when she’s a senior, which could be really good for her when it comes to people looking at her to play at the next level,” he said. “She’s got to dribble better and work on her flexibility. She stands up too much. The low man wins. If she gets down and goes really low and gets down low using her strength against people, she could be a real handful.

“She has to become more orthodox in her shots around the basket. The shots she makes, we know she can make them. But a college recruiter sees her play one time and looks at her unorthodox play and they haven’t seen her, that can hurt her. ... She puts a lot of spin on the ball. She’s not necessarily on balance all the time, and it’ll hurt her. It’ll hurt her in the recruiting business and it’ll hurt her in the crazy political game of the Junior All-Stars. Having a more orthodox approach in her moves around the basket is a high priority for her, and the number of rebounds she gets. Victor is gone. We’ll have to have someone that can get 10 or 11 rebounds a game. She’s the only one around to do it.

“She has all the potential in the world.”

Madyson Price, Logansport

The versatile 5-foot-9 senior was thrust into the starting role when Seanna Redman went down with a season-ending knee injury.

And Price certainly delivered.

“You’ve got to give Price credit for stepping in and doing a great job,” Hoover said.

Price averaged 4.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

She attained Logan legend status when she hit back-to-back 3-pointers that started the comeback in the win over Snider in the regional semifinal.

“Those two 3s she knocked down against Snider will remain in my heart forever,” Hoover said.

Many times Price, though a skilled offensive player, would be unselfish and pass up shots, going for the assist. But in big games she was known to knock down the 3, acting as a secret weapon to cripple the heart of the opponent.

“The first one she hit against Benton Central was huge and got us out to a big early lead, and that was against a No. 1 team in the state going in,” Hoover said.

Jessica Schramm, Winamac

Winamac coach Jeff Wagner said Schramm is one of the biggest success stories of the historically strong program.

Schramm transformed herself into a dead-eye shooter from the outside during her high school career. Then this season, her senior year, she pulled down a team-high 111 boards.

She averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. She shot 39 percent from 3-point range (40 of 103) and 82 percent from the foul line (90 of 110).

The Warriors went 16-6 this season with the only Midwest Conference loss coming against Frontier.

“When [Stephanie] Shorter was out, she really stepped up her rebounding,” Wagner said of Schramm. “She obviously took the most 3s for us and shot them at the highest percentage, and she can also rebound at the same time. That was a pretty big factor into our success. She hit five 3s against Boone Grove, and if she would have hit one more we would have won the game. She’s done a really fine job the last two years. This year she really stepped up and took charge.”

Stephanie Shorter, Winamac

The Warriors were ranked in the top 10 in Class 2A the entire season until Shorter went down with a broken hand injury at Knox on Jan. 12. The Warriors started off 12-2 but finished 4-4.

“You don’t really know how good she is until she’s gone,” Wagner said of his 5-9 junior forward.

Shorter was able to return for sectional time playing with a cast, and the Warriors opened with a 72-45 drubbing of host Hebron. But the injury no doubt threw the Warriors off, and they were edged by Boone Grove 46-43 in a semifinal.

Shorter led the Warriors in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg). She shot 48 percent from the field and 75 percent from the foul line (76 of 102).

“It’s too bad she didn’t get to play those seven games,” Wagner said. “She was averaging 17 ppg. She finished with 254 points and would have had well over 300, for sure.

“She was very consistent, shot 48 percent from the field. She took good shots and knocked them down on a regular basis. She’s a really quality player with her inside game. She can handle the ball pretty well and she can get to the basket. Next year teams are really going to hone in on her. You take away Schramm, they’re going to focus on [Bethany] Brogdon and her. She’s going to have to handle the ball, too, and get to the basket and keep scoring.” 

Kiley Victor, Logansport

Kiley’s father, Mark Victor, preaches defense and rebounding as a coach. Apparently Kiley has been listening all these years.

The importance of Victor’s defense and rebounding to this season’s success cannot be understated. Standing in at a slender 5-foot-11, she was not afraid to mix it up with much bigger players, and she played with reckless abandon. She averaged 5.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Victor’s defense when the Berries went to their box-and-one often evoked feelings of sympathy by Berry fans for the opponent’s star player.

“To lose someone like her, she led the NCC in number of rebounds (216) and was second in rebounds per game. To lose her defense...” Hoover said. “She finished 30th in the state in rebounds.

“Outside of Whitney, she’s the best athlete in Logansport High School in my judgment.”

Beau Wicker is the sports editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5113 or beau.wicker@pharostribune.com.

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