By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – For all the app’s practical uses and potential social demons, the best feature on Facebook is the “memories” button. Want to escape into a time warp? Just one click. Look back at the beginning of this, and how life was. One year, two years, six years ago. Everything was simpler then.
Not long ago, on the timeline, a poignant, prophetic picture popped up, a basketball team of grade-school girls, that precocious age before teenagers suddenly think they know everything and adults know absolutely nothing. They were still all headbands, braces, baggy uniforms, pony tails and giggles. Oh, the dreams they had.
Where does time go? Fast forward back to reality, and most of the kids in that photograph are now seniors, about to finish their careers at Bedford North Lawrence and bid farewell on Senior Night. It won’t be too long and they’ll be going under. Can anything save them from this? No, it is their time.
BNL’s five-player senior class will take the official regular-season curtain calls when the No.6 Stars host Martinsville on Thursday. For Karsyn Norman, Mallory Pride, Emma Brown, Emma Crane and Katie Baumgart, this will be the most dreaded of performances, when they make that walk – escorted by family and cheered by friends – in the spotlight to center court, vainly fighting back tears and a wide range of emotions.
What a journey. They still have dreams, in a world that will try to take them away in every game going forward. If those young kids only knew what was ahead of them. If these young women only knew what is yet to come. If they’ve been blind to what should really matter, they will realize it now.
“It will be emotional,” Baumgart said. “It’s like a sisterhood. We’ve grown up together. It will be an important moment for us, and we’ll never forget it.”
This class has been unforgettable, for a variety of reasons. Each has grown individually during the four-year run through the program, each has faced their own adversity, each has persevered, each has given their unique talents to a team that represents the community with such grace, poise and eloquence. They take the title “Lady Stars” quite seriously. Their roles differ, but their goals are the same.
“They’re just a really solid group,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “They’re high-character kids, which makes our job as coaches easy. They came in with a skill level a lot of freshmen don’t have, and they’re workers because they’ve gotten better as the years have progressed.
“They make me feel old. It seems like they were just freshmen.”
During their four years at BNL, these seniors have been a part of teams that have gone 86-15 (so far, with more to come). But that record doesn’t begin to tell their stories. Role players, starters or superstar, they have given all. If there was a fear in them, it wasn’t showing.
For Baumgart and Crane, the playing time has been periodic, depending on team need against an opponent. And not all seniors would accept that. Their contributions go beyond that. For Crane, who scored 6 points in a critical win over Jennings County, it’s the example of determination, to endure three knee surgeries just to make it to this point. “The support of the girls helped a lot,” Crane said. “I wanted to play with them.” For Baumgart, it’s knowing how many people – especially the next generation of kids dreaming of taking their place – are watching. She loved working the summer youth camps.
“You see all the generations coming up,” said Baumgart, who scored 6 points against Gibson Southern. “That’s amazing. I just think about how much I help my team. How can I make the best of it, how can I help my team to be successful?“
“It’s a tough role,” Allen said. To have a successful program, you have to have great role players. That revolves around two things – the kids have to be high character and they have to be committed to your team. Those kids are that. They’ve done a great job, they’ve been good senior leaders.”
Brown, who missed her entire junior season while recovering from major knee surgery, is another poster child for tenacity, a toughness hidden behind a constant smile. For many months, she saw more of BNL trainer Nick Laydon than the coaching staff. Pain was not an option. “Even while going through it, I still felt supported by everyone,” Brown said. Now she has returned to play a vital part as a starter.
“I’m thrilled for her, after last year,” Allen said. “We were really counting on her to play a lot of minutes last season. For her to come back, and she’s had a great senior year, I’m thrilled she had the opportunity to do that.”
If BNL awards a ‘Most Improved’ honor, it must go to Pride. Her development into an inside threat (10.2 points. 7.5 rebounds) has been crucial for the undersized Stars. It’s been an amazing transformation.
“We remember her a freshman, she was really erratic in her play, all over the place, didn’t have a great understanding of what it takes out there to make things work,” Allen said. “She just got better and better, and she’s turned into an outstanding high school player.”
Her light-switch moment was a dark day for her teammates. When Brown went down during the 2021 offseason, Norman went immediately to her best friend – you hardly see one without the other, kind of like Peter Pan’s shadow – and demanded it. “You have to step it up. Right now,” Norman ordered.
”It was an eye opener,” Pride said.
No one else could. Just like Pride’s constant battles with bigger, taller opponents in the paint. No one else will. This time, it’s the mean switch that gets flicked on. Pride is not afraid of a little contact.
“Once again, no one else will do it,” Pride said with a laugh. “I have to be mean. I get pushed around all the time. Once I get mad, it’s hard to bring me back down.”
Finally, Norman is the team heartbeat, the Butler recruit and Miss Basketball candidate. She’s also the unanimous choice to cry first (as voted by her peers) during the Senior festivities. Once the whistle blows, no one is tougher mentally. She’s had to be, having been thrust into the demanding point guard position as a rookie. When Allen has an issue with what’s happening on the court, he summons her first. When there’s venting, she hears it. She can take it. She used to worry about what everyone thought. Now the opposing coaches do the worrying.
“I’ve taken more of a leadership role, more of a scoring role,” Norman said. “I’ve had to. I was really shy at first. I didn’t have nearly as much fun at first, because I was worried I was going to disappoint everybody. Now I just go do my thing.”
Her thing has been special. Norman is averaging amazing numbers (17.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists) and she’s joined the program’s elite group of 1,000-point career scorers. Nothing fazes her. Yet she’d still rather dribble through fire than walk out there on Senior Night. This is the one thing she’s not trained to handle.
“You cry it out,” she said. “I’ve been dreading it. It’s coming to an end, and it’s really sad. There’s no way to get over it, you have to get it out. Then you shake it off and go play a game.” If she’s going to miss being a Lady Star, imagine how much her team will miss her when she graduates.
“She’s playing at such a high level right now,” Allen said. “When she plays at that level, with the other pieces we have, it’s a really difficult matchup for other teams. She’s been graced with natural speed, and her skills that she’s worked on – her range, her ball skills, her understanding of the game – all those things wound together have made her a tremendous player. It’s been a joy to coach her.”
Only one goal remains. BNL has won three sectionals and two regional championships during the previous three seasons. For all those little girls in that old photo, the success has been outstanding. For these young women, another banner for the crowded northeast corner of BNL Fieldhouse would be the perfect farewell.
“I would have never expected semistate finishes, regional finishes,” Norman said. Then she dared to look ahead. “And hopefully a state championship this year.”
MARTINSVILLE at BNL
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: BNL 19-3 (ranked No.6 in Class 4A); Martinsville 0-23
Sagarin ratings: BNL 101.16; Martinsville 40.83
Last meeting: Last year at Martinsville, the Stars rolled to a 66-33 victory. Chloe Spreen had 22 points, Madisyn Bailey tallied 16 and Karsyn Norman added 15 for BNL. Kearsten Willen had 13 points for the Artesians.
Previous game story: Stars sizzle in final dress rehearsal
Game notes: Martinsville has lost 26 consecutive games. BNL ranks seventh in the state in scoring at 63.1 points per game.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Katie Baumgart 6-1 Sr.
F – Emma Crane 5-11 Sr.
F – Mallory Pride 5-8 Sr.
G – Karsyn Norman 5-6 Sr.
G – Emma Brown 5-5 Sr.
F – Trinity Jones 5-8 Jr.
F – Maci Dorsett 5-8 Sr.
F – Mya Lewis 5-10 Fr.
G – Marina Rautenkranz 5-6 Jr.
G – Holly Galyan 5-6 Sr.