Friday at Columbia City could tell a lot on who will be in the driver’s seat in the NE8 race for girls’ basketball. At the time I’m writing this post, Columbia City sits at 9-0 overall (the first 9-0 start since 1995-96) and 1-0 in conference play following their 68-44 win over Leo. Norwell comes in at 8-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play following their 49-47 win over a fundamentally sounded Huntington North squad.
In the last 15 years, Norwell has led the series 18-4 and have won a conference championship in 9 of the last 14 years dating back to the NHC years. The last time Columbia City defeated Norwell, they won that game 48-46 during the 2019-20 season and ended up sharing a NE8 title for their first conference championship since 1999.
For Columbia City under Amy Shearer, everyone across the 260 area are starting to realize just how dangerous this Lady Eagles team can be as they’re averaging 60.4 points (tied for 22nd in the state) and giving up just 33.6 (29th in state). They do with a combination of youth, speed, grit, and of course talent. Molly Baker is second in the NE8 in scoring averaging 15.8 points and is one of the premier rebounders from that conference. Grace College Commit Bekah Marshall has contributed to a solid 2-way game averaging 10.9 points. Freshman Addison Baxter is averaging 12.2 points (5th in NE8), but she’s also become a triple-double threat every night. And of course there’s a strong backcourt to compliment these players in Kyndra Sheets, Danielle Dunham, Brooke Lickey, and Tessa Tonkel. The big thing here is a lot of these girls are just sophomores, so the future is even beighter for them.
Now can they do enough to bring home a conference championship? Their last outright conference championship came in 1996 when they won their first 17 games on their way to a 19-2 season.
For the Norwell Knights, this is a reloading situation but title contention is still one of their expectations for the 25-year head coach Eric Thornton. There’s still a Fuelling in Ossian, this time it’s Kaylee’s sophomore sister Kennedy whose 3rd in scoring at 15.4 points a game. But they also have tremendous shooting and depth in seniors Mackinizie Tolliver, Emily Todd, sophomore Makenzie Fuess, junior Skyla Tomasek, etc. Norwell enters this game averaging 59.8 points (tied for 29th in state) and allowing only 34.8 (37th in state).
Rebounding is a key component for both the Columbia City Eagles and the Norwell Knights, even though Norwell does have a size advantage in the post. Columbia City plays tough defense, but they’re so good at using their speed to dictate pace, and this is a team that shares the ball extremely well which leads to excellent shooting numbers. On the Norwell side, they don’t play quite as fast as Columbia City, but they really like to get up and down the floor and score with their press and transition game. Norwell is also very good at finding those open gaps inside and dribble drive in the baseline.
These are undoubtedly the two most complete teams in the NE8 that have what it takes to win a conference championship this season. But once again it’ll come down to taking care of the basketball and rebounding that decides the outcome of this game.