By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Taylor Sykes faced a lot of tough assignments during her outstanding Jeffersonville career. That came with the territory as a top-tier guard, competing against the best in the state. Now she’s tackling the most difficult task, unexpectedly thrust on her, yet for her beloved program.
Sykes, a decorated 2016 graduate, was named interim coach for the Red Devils in September after Cory Norman’s contract was abruptly cancelled after one season. Given little time, handed the reigns just a month before the official start of practice sessions, with only one year of coaching experience on the staff, Sykes took over her alma mater in the aftermath of the upheaval. She has handled the promotion with style.
She’s been earning the removal of that “interim” label, guiding the Red Devils to a 3-1 start as they prepare for a tough double-dip weekend, road trips to 4A powers that will conclude with the Hoosier Hills Conference opener at No.2 Bedford North Lawrence on Saturday.
Sykes has relied on her playing experience and her season as the junior varsity coach to guide Jeffersonville through the rocky weeks prior to the season opener. Success on the court has made the transition much smoother as the Red Devils capped their first 10 days of the new campaign with a 51-38 victory over 2A No.7 Providence on Tuesday.
“I already had relationships with players on the team, and our start has helped overall morale,” Sykes said. “The girls want to focus on exceeding expectations, so this had given them a shot of confidence. They’ve played with a lot of heart.”
Sykes was a star with the Devils, averaging 12.0 points as a junior and 14.5 as a senior. However, she had the misfortune of facing BNL at its zenith, going 0-7 during her playing career against the Stars (who were in the midst of back-to-back state championships with three Indiana All-Stars on the roster). Her last three seasons ended with losses to the Stars.
“When I played, they were at the top of the chain,” Sykes said. “And now that’s still true. So it’s exciting.”
Indeed, BNL is defending its 4A state title and now begins the challenge of defending the conference crown. The definition of nemesis is “the inescapable agent of someone’s downfall.” BNL has been Jeffersonville’s, with losses against the Stars ending nine of the last 10 seasons. The Devils would love to inflict some revenge damage.
“When you have BNL across your chest, there’s more pep in their step when they come on the floor,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “We know that. Sometimes we have to be reminded of that.”
Jeffersonville will feature returning veterans LaKyra Johnson (17.3 points) and Elle Marble (9.3), plus sophomore guard Keziah Renee (13.0).
“They’re very athletic, she has them playing extremely hard,” Allen said. “They’re a conference opponent, they won’t be afraid of us. They’ll come in here and give us their best shot. We’ll try to sit down and guard them, make things difficult in the halfcourt. Keeping them off the boards will be a big issue. We have to rebound better as a unit because we’re a bunch of guards.”
Sykes will have the Devils focused on BNL star Chloe Spreen, who’s averaging 26.3 points as a frontrunner for Miss Basketball. She’s shooting a crisp 59 percent from the floor and adding 6.0 rebounds. Madisyn Bailey is contributing 11.8 points, 6.8 assists and 6.8 steals, while freshman Miley Sherrill is totaling 11.3 points.
“They have a system, they have phenomenal athletes,” Sykes said. “It starts with Chloe. She makes people around her better, and she’s also a great player. Walking into their gym is a fun environment. It will be a great opportunity for our team. They want to go in there and show who they are.”
BNL swept two games from the Devils last season. The Stars completely dominated the regular-season clash at Jeffersonville, racing to a 43-8 lead at halftime before rolling to a 65-21 triumph. Karsyn Norman had 22 points and Spreen added 20 during that conquest. In the sectional rematch at BNL, Norman had 23 points as the Stars posted a 65-50 victory for their sixth straight win in the series.
Both teams will be busy on Friday night. The Devils will battle 4A No.16 Silver Creek, while the Stars are on the road at North Central.
“It’s like a sectional week,” Allen said. “Playing Tuesday (a win over Bloomington South), Friday and Saturday, playing quality opponents every night. It really simulates the grind and gives us an idea of how we will respond in the sectional.”
JEFFERSONVILLE at BNL
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Jeffersonville 3-1 (0-0 in HHC, at Silver Creek on Friday); BNL 4-0 (0-0 in HHC, at North Central on Friday), ranked No.2 in Class 4A
Last meeting: BNL swept a pair of games from the Red Devils last season, winning 65-21 during the regular-season game at Jeffersonville (Karsyn Norman scored 22 points) and 65-50 in the Class 4A sectional semifinal at BNL (Norman scored 23).
Previous game story: Stars shake off determined Devils
Game notes: BNL, the defending HHC champion, has won six straight games in the series. First-year head coach Taylor Sykes graduated from Jeffersonville in 2016.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Chloe Spreen 5-10 Sr.
F – Bella Jackason 5-7 Sr.
F – Miley Sherrill 5-9 Fr.
G – Madisyn Bailey 5-9 Sr.
G – Trinidy Bailey 5-7 So.
Jeffersonville Red Devils
F – Kiya Boatwright 5-10 So.
F – Elle Marble 5-9 Sr.
G -LaKyra Johnson 5-7 Sr.
G – Keziah Renee 5-7 So.
G – LaQaya Gold 5-6 Sr.