WEST CHESTER TWP. — Even with numerous new names and faces, the Lakota West High School girls basketball team is still setting a high bar for success this season.
“We’ve got standards around here,” said junior forward Nevaeh Dean, one of the most well-known Firebirds and a Virginia Tech commit. “We have some transfers and some young kids, but they’re all ready to learn, and they’re all locked in. So we’ll definitely be there eventually.”
West made a statement right out of the gate Saturday night in its season opener, rallying from a nine-point deficit in the second half to conquer Indiana’s defending Class 3A state champion.
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Kailyn Dudukovich had 13 points and Dean scored 12 for the Firebirds in their 61-53 victory over Kokomo Northwestern in the annual Journey to the Tourney event at West.
“It was definitely a quality win for us to start the season,” Firebirds coach Andy Fishman said. “I feel like this is a confidence booster for our kids. If we would’ve lost this game and made that comeback and played the way we did in the second half, I still would’ve had to take away some positives.”
West trailed 30-23 at halftime and 32-23 early in the third period before roaring back to lead by as many as 13 points (54-41) down the stretch.
Dean dominated down low with 10 points after the break, while freshman guard Chance Gray tallied nine of her 11 points in the second half for the winners.
“We’re starting to mesh together nicely with our incomers,” Dean said. “Nerves were kind of in the picture tonight because it was our first game. But we got through that.”
Northwestern (4-2) got worn down by the Firebirds’ pace. The Tigers were beaten by Newark 63-41 on Friday night, and they looked like their legs were gone by the end of Saturday’s game.
Juniors Madison Layden (Purdue) and Kendall Bostic (Michigan State) have verbally committed to Big Ten schools and led Northwestern against West. Layden, a 6-foot-1 guard, had 21 points, five rebounds and three assists. Bostic, a 6-1 post, collected 11 points, nine boards, three assists and three blocks.
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness,” Tigers coach Kathie Layden said. “This was back-to-back nights of extremely physical, fast-paced basketball. We obviously had a third-quarter letdown that we wish we wouldn’t have had, but we’ve got to give a lot of credit to Lakota West.
“We definitely had some baskets that I thought we normally would’ve made, but that goes back to our legs, the pace of the game and making them under a little more pressure. Now you have to hit those shots with two defenders on you instead of just one.
“We came here to get better and work on things. Just in a matter of two games, we handled the full-court pressure better. I thought we did a better job of meeting the passes and putting a little more on the pass. We made some uncharacteristic turnovers because we’re not used to being guarded the way they guarded us both nights.”
Northwestern had 15 turnovers against the Firebirds, and that wasn’t an exorbitant number. The weariness showed more in the Tigers’ legs and their 25-percent shooting in the second half.
NHS recently lost senior Steph Burns, one of their starting posts, to a torn ACL. She’s slated to play her college ball at Indiana Tech.
“We knew without Steph that we had a lot of roles to fill,” Kathie Layden said. “We didn’t want to come here and lose by any means, but we also knew that we were going to come up against some of the best competition that Ohio has to offer. It was a great trip. We can definitely learn from this.”
The Tigers will get back on the court Wednesday night at Maconaquah (Ind.), while West turns right around and has another Journey to the Tourney contest against Tecumseh on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Not surprisingly, the Firebirds got a lot of different contributions in their win over Northwestern.
Bryana Henderson had seven points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Jaydis Gales had seven points, four boards and two assists. Dominique Camp had six points, four assists, three boards and two steals. Kylie Zurlinden earned Fishman’s praise with three points in a productive seven-plus minutes of action. Dean grabbed six rebounds, and Dudukovich totaled three boards and two blocks. Gray had three rebounds and three assists.
Camp and fellow senior forward Sydney Benning are both newcomers to the West program. Camp came from Wayne, while Benning came from McAuley.
“We have really turned over our roster compared to last year,” Fishman said. “Our bar is still incredibly high, but we still have a lot of work to do. As I said to the girls to start the season, one of the really cool things about this year is there’s no way we’re going to reach our peak early because we’re still figuring out exactly what we have.”
The first half against Northwestern wasn’t great, but the second half looked like the Firebirds of old.
“I think we played the way we’re supposed to play in terms of maintaining our intensity and fast-paced style,” Fishman said. “I thought we did three things in the second half that made a difference in this game. No. 1, we started getting back and not giving up transition baskets while still maintaining pressure on the ball. No. 2, we did a great job walling up and being stout around the basket. As talented and as awesome as Bostic is, we had her a little out of her comfort zone because we were in between her and the basket. And third, our ball movement and our assertiveness attacking the basket, both with the pass and the dribble-penetration, were much better.”
Dean summed it up like this: “Fishman’s thing is push, push, push, so that’s what we did.”
West’s college commits are Benning, who signed with Drury (Mo.), and Dean, who chose Virginia Tech over Dayton.
Dean described the Tech people and campus as “amazing” and also liked the school’s approach to helping students prepare for jobs after college. On the court, the Hokies finished second in the WNIT last season.
“I’m really good at math and science, so I’ll find my thing,” Dean said when asked about her major. “I really like the idea of anthropology, but I’m not sure yet. I’ve got time to figure it out.”
Lakota West 13-10-14-24—61
NORTHWESTERN (4-2): Klair Merrell 0 3 3; Katie Neher 4 2 11; Madison Layden 8 4 21; Allison Miller 1 1 3; Kendall Bostic 3 5 11; Ellie Boyer 1 0 2; Sarah Heaver 1 0 2. Totals: 18-15-53
LAKOTA WEST (1-0): Bryana Henderson 1 4 7; Chance Gray 4 2 11; Dominique Camp 3 0 6; Kailyn Dudukovich 5 3 13; Nevaeh Dean 6 0 12; Jaydis Gales 3 0 7; Sydney Benning 0 2 2; Kylie Zurlinden 1 1 3. Totals: 23-12-61
3-pointers: N 2 (Neher, Layden); L 3 (Gales, Henderson, Gray)