STATE FINAL: BNL reaches new heights following growth spurts

BNL senior Karsyn Norman will lead the Stars into the Class 4A state final against Fishers on Saturday.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Every kid hits the growth spurt stage. Parents are warned about the “terrible twos” as a child reaches that milestone, but in reality the worst is the “terrible teens.” They eat everything that can’t escape, outgrow clothes and shoes before the tags are removed, change moods like a chameleon’s colors and think they know everything. Eventually, as they mature, they evolve into the productive adults we expect.

Basketball players go through similar growth patterns. They have to learn the speed of the game, adjust to the physicality, unlearn bad habits, figure out what works, absorb coaching. Eventually, as they mature, they evolve into the productive athletes their coaches expect.

Bedford North Lawrence has reached new heights, thundering to the Class 4A state championship game for the first time since 2014. After heartbreaking tournament losses the last three years, these Stars – the latest generation – are one victory away from the program’s fifth state title. It’s the result of growth spurts from three key individuals.

Senior guard Karsyn Norman, junior forward Chloe Spreen and senior forward Mallory Pride spend the most time in the spotlight. They are the leading scorers, they are the vocal leaders, the pulse of the team. Each has matured to this perfect confluence of talent and toughness, powering the Stars (26-3) through a sensational season and electric postseason.

For Norman, her development has been season to season, a four-year starter who grew up before everyone’s eyes. For Spreen, she has transformed from soft sophomore to fierce star this season. For Pride, she exploded midway through this campaign, becoming the X factor with rapid improvement. Everyone hits their growth spurt at different ages, different stages.

Norman got thrust into the fire as a freshman. As a rookie, she had flashes of brilliance, mixed with moments of frustration. That was expected. She averaged 8.1 points, but the key stat was her assist-to-turnover ratio. Just about dead even, which means something good was often balanced out with something not. BNL coach Jeff Allen had to live with that.

Then the light switch was flicked on. She bumped her scoring to 9.5 as a sophomore, but her epiphany came in the sectional that season. She scored in double figures in five consecutive games that postseason, and has been a supernova force since. She’s averaging 16 points per game. And that assist-to-turnover ratio this year? About 2.5 to one, the sign of a brilliant point guard.

BNL junior Chloe Spreen has transformed into a tough scorer in the paint.

“She’s always been a gifted athlete,” Allen said. “ It was learning the game, understanding the game. Watching her growth over four years is the part of coaching you really enjoy.“

Norman is the embodiment of the sports cliche “coach on the floor.” She’s the floor general, the captain, so every conversation Allen decides is necessary during the heat of battle starts with her. When she gets summoned to the sideline, the eyes roll a little, even if the correction is directed at someone else. Her job is to get things right.

“It’s kind of the Dad conversation, where you have to give some tough love once in a while,” Allen said with a laugh. “The daughters don’t look forward to it, they know it’s coming, but they kind of know it’s right. It’s not always her. It might be someone else I’m unhappy with and I’m telling her to fix it. That’s what you get when you’re a senior captain. She has done a great job leading.

“We average nine turnovers as a team, which is outstanding for as fast as we play. It’s turned her into one of the best guards in Indiana.”

She has earned Allen’s trust. During the semistate at Southport, when the crowd noise reached a fever pitch, communication was difficult.

“It was so loud, she said ‘Coach, we’re having a hard time hearing the calls,’” Allen said. “And I said ‘You make the call.’ If the team can’t hear it, Karsyn can make it and run something. If we don’t like it, we’‘ll adjust it.”

Spreen has always been a scorer, jumping from 14.8 as a freshman to 19.0 this season. Her growth has been twofold: an improved perimeter game (38 percent from distance this season after only low 20s her first two years), plus a willingness to take contact and dish it out. She might not look strong, but don’t be deceived. She was a demon in the post during the semistate wins, scoring 46 combined points.

“She’s gotten stronger, which has helped her to finish with contact around the basket,” Allen said. “She has added to her perimeter game, it’s made her more of a complete player where she’s more difficult to guard. She’s a veteran who has a little bit of warrior to her.”

BNL’s Mallory Pride has become a dependable weapon in the post for the Stars (26-3).

Pride’s surge happened after she missed two December games with an illness. Since the Silver Creek win on Dec. 15, she has averaged 11.5 points per game, hitting double figures 12 times in that span, capped by a career-high 20 during the semistate win over Center Grove.

“She’s a really good competitor, much more athletic than people give her credit for,” Allen said. “They take her for granted, and then she’ll blow by you. But the big thing this year is I think she’s having fun. I think that’s helped her achieve the level of play she’s had. She enjoys every day, to see how much better she’s gotten.”

Fun? It’s been work, as she’s been tasked with guarding opposing bigs that have often had a 4-plus inch, 50-pound weight advantage in the paint.

“That’s the thing with her and Madisyn (Bailey),” Allen said. “We’ve asked them to guard some pretty tough assignments with kids that are bigger and pretty good athletes. They both understand that and do a good job.”

“This year is just different,” Pride said. “We’ve made it a lot further, but everyone is just closer. Everyone is tighter as friends. When I first came back, I was motivated. But now it’s the end goal. All of us were Little Stars, we’ve all dreamed of this forever. Now that we’re here, it’s our last chance. So why not?”

Why not? BNL must tangle with Fishers (26-2) in the finale. The Tigers don’t have the interior height of most BNL opponents, but they have tough twin guards in Ball State recruits Hailey and Olivia Smith, who lead Fishers in scoring (12.1 plus 6.9 boards for Hailey, 10.6 points for Olivia) and defensive passion.

“We know all of them,” Norman said. “They’re a bunch of guards, like us. We have to shut the twins down. They’re the senior leaders of their team, they set the tone. If we can stop that, we make the other girls pick it up.”

“They’re strong and physical,” Spreen said. “We know we’ll have to be mentally prepared when we go out there, especially on a big stage. We’re happy to be here, and we want to win it more, as a team just finish it. We’re happy to be in this place.”

“It’s time to get to work,” Norman added.

The championship has been Norman’s stated goal all season. She has pointed toward this moment since she donned the uniform to follow in the footsteps of her heroes, the 2014 BNL team that won back-to-back state crowns. From frolicking freshman to serious senior, she is driven.

“Wow, how quick did that four years go by,” Allen said. “She’s wanted to get here so badly, and I’ve wanted to get back here so badly, it’s a dream come true for both us.”