BNL celebrates championship after adding a fifth point to the star

BNL’s Karsyn Norman gets ready to lug the state championship trophy into BNL Fieldhouse for the community celebration on Monday night.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – All good things comes to an end. Bedford North Lawrence’s ending was the greatest.

State champions. Type that in large font, so head coach Jeff Allen can see it. What a way to conclude one of the special seasons in program history. The euphoria following BNL’s Class 4A championship, the fifth crown for the Stars, has not waned, and will not for weeks. The memories will last forever.

Following the ecstasy of the immediate celebration on the court after BNL’s 46-42 conquest of Fishers in the title game, after the impromptu, late-night revelry on the courthouse square to welcome home the champions, BNL officially christened its title during the community commemoration Monday night in BNL Fieldhouse. Even though nine days had passed, there was still a lot to talk about. Everyone involved will age, and the stories will exaggerate over time, but this ultimate victory will never grow old.

The Stars gathered one more time, to publicly thank their rabid fan base, to reminisce about the great moments during a 27-3 campaign that ended with another banner for the northeast corner of the Fieldhouse. The timeline started in 1983, continued in 1991, 2013 and 2014. Now there’s a fifth point on the star.

BNL’s remarkable season started with promise, overcome a few setbacks, finished with a gold-medal burst to the title. The heroes were many, some who are accustomed to the spotlight, some who would rather remain quiet in the shadows.

After Bedford mayor Sam Craig issued his proclamation to make this Bedford North Lawrence Lady Stars Basketball Day, with all the honors and benefits occurring thereto, BNL coaches and players replayed the key moments and memories. There were obviously more than what could be crammed into a 90-minute presentation.

“I look back at this team, and what they did this year, and I have to give credit where credit it due,” Allen said. “God is great. What He did with these girls, I’m just glad I got to go along for the ride.

“It’s an amazing feat. It is as fun as it looks.”

BNL senior Katie Baumgart swings one of the championship nets while making her triumphant entrance for the celebration. Photo courtesy of Cody Bailey

The ride was thrilling. BNL won another Hoosier Hills Conference title, extended its sectional streak to 12 straight, then conquered Evansville Central for the 14th regional in the program archives. For most teams, that would be worth celebrating. But at BNL, tradition demands more. And the Stars delivered, winning two tough games at Southport to claim the seventh semistate. That left only the grand prize, which BNL won with the victory over Fishers.

That barely scratches the surface on the highlights. Chloe Spreen averaged a team-best 19.0 points, and she was sensational during the final three tournament battles. Karsyn Norman added 15.5 points and 4.2 assists, and Mallory Pride added 10.8 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds. Madisyn Bailey contributed 7.6 points and 3.5 assists.

And all Emma Brown did was score the final four points in the championships game.

What made them special? Allen spelled it out.

“S, for strength,” he started. “Not just physical strength, but strength in numbers, strength in each other.

“T, for teamwork, unselfishness. We have a motto in the team room, which states you have to answer these three questions to be a champion. Are you committed? Can I trust you? Do you care about me? I think all those girls answered those questions ‘yes.’

“A, for achieve. Everything this team wanted to achieve this year, they did so.

“R, for respect. Playing the game the right way. Respect all and fear none.

“S . . . surprises. This year was full of surprises for me. You look down the bench, and sometimes you have to put kids in positions, throw them in the fire. Every time I did that. I was pleasantly surprised with how they performed. They had to go out and say ‘Yeah, Coach, I’m ready.’ Then there was a water bottle shower after semistate. Best shower I’ve ever had.

“And never underestimate anything. Even the smallest kid on the floor can make the biggest play of her life.”

Of course, that was Brown, whose drive for the go-ahead basket, whose two clinching free throws with 3.7 seconds left, scripted a true Hollywood ending. She missed her entire junior season with a knee injury – “I was devastated, I didn’t want to be here. It broke my heart to not be able to be out there,” she told the audience – and she was standing in the corner when Bailey started that fateful play with a pass to the senior guard. Wallflower? Nobody puts Emma in a corner. She faked, dashed to the rim and scored. There was a lot of dancing after that.

Bedford mayor Sam Craig issued a proclamation to honor the state champions. Photo courtesy City of Bedford

“It’s something that’s storybook,” BNL assistant coach Chase Spreen said. “For what she went through, to be in that position to seal the game at the end, it pulls at my heartstrings. That was special.”

“I’m not really the playmaker,” Brown said. “I knew someone had to step up. I saw that chance and took it.”

That bucket was followed by a Fishers offensive foul for an illegal screen, then by the two Brown free throws, then by delirious delight. “I had to go back and rewatch it,” Chase Spreen said. “It got to a point where I just blacked it out. I remember watching Emma make two free throws to seal it.”

Other speakers recalled a similar journey. Senior reserve Emma Crane battled through three surgeries.

“After every surgery, my doctor kept asking me ‘Are you sure you want to keep playing?’” Crane said. “I never had a doubt in my mind. I just knew one day we would get a banner up there.”

Chloe Spreen had the most unique viewpoint of the final minutes. She had fouled out and was relegated to cheerleader status. While almost everyone in Gainbridge Fieldhouse felt BNL was in dire trouble without its top scorer (she left with 20 points, over half the team total at that point), she did not.

“Honestly, I wasn’t scared one bit,” Spreen said. “I trusted them 100 percent.”

After the emotional triumph, after Norman was named BNL’s sixth Mental Attitude Award winner, the Stars claimed those nets, posed for a thousand photos. But the most fun was the ride home from Indianapolis on the bus.

“There was tears, laughter, dancing, a lot of music playing,” Pride said. “It’s something I will never forget.”

“The ride home from the state finals, so many emotions,” Crane said. “It’s still surreal to me that we finally did it.”

“The fact we’re here, the fact we made it, is awesome,” Spreen added. “It’s everything we ever wanted.”

For the five seniors (including Norman, Pride, Brown, Crane and Katie Baumgart), the celebration was also a farewell. It’s a class that witnessed 94 wins during their four years. That’s quite the legacy.

“I can’t think of any better way to end it,” Norman said. “I see a lot of little girls out there, and I dreamed about this since I was your age. We’ve tried to be the best role models we could be, because we used to look up to the state champs that got the other banners.”

“I’ve known every one of those girls since elementary school,” Pride said. “Once we all got together, I knew there was something special about it.”

One team member tied the past to the present. Assistant coach Brett Holtz remembered her trip to Market Square Arena for the ‘83 Final Four, brought out the autographed shirt she wore that day. She also wore all the rings she has won as a player and coach. Quite the jewelry collection.

“It was 40 years ago, my parents took me to a basketball game at Market Square Arena,” Holtz said. “This is the shirt that I wore to that game. It has all the signatures of the players, and I want to give a shout out to that ‘83 team.

“Thanks for getting us started.”

BNL’s Katie Godlevske and Emma Brown posed for pictures and signed autographs following the celebration.