Timeout Girls Basketball: Freshman trio leading way for Noll
By Ryan Haskell Post-Tribune correspondent December 13, 2012 11:02PM
Bishop Noll's Brenda Pennington goes past Hebron's Emily DeFries to the basket in the second quarter at Bishop Noll Wednesday evening. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:48AM
Bishop Noll once dominated girls basketball in Northwest Indiana.
From 1988-91, the Warriors claimed four straight sectional titles and won the regional championship in ’90. Noll claimed a total of seven sectional championships from 1980-97.
But the Warriors have struggled since the start of class basketball. Noll has had three winning seasons since the 2000-01 campaign and hasn’t won more than 12 games in that same time period.
The basketball culture has changed this year, however, thanks to three dynamic freshmen.
So you might want to learn the names Naomi House, Brenda Pennington and Tori Keilman. Because they are going to be around for a while.
After a 10-10 season a year ago, second-year coach Vanita Gary has the Warriors (8-1, 4-0) playing their best basketball in decades, winning eight of their first nine games — including seven straight — heading into an important Greater South Shore Conference game against defending league champion Wheeler on Friday.
It’s hard not to credit the rise of these three freshmen for Noll’s impressive start to the season.
But Gary doesn’t want to jump the gun. She knows the Bearcats will give her team quite a test.
“This will show us how far we have come,” the former Noll standout said. “With this success, we can’t be complacent. You have to always be a student of the game. These freshmen will go as far as they believe they can go and as far as our effort will take us. If you believe what you can achieve and are willing to pay the price for it, you can be successful.”
House, Pennington and Keilman all played their junior high basketball in Hammond but at three different schools. House and Pennington were rivals, playing for Scott and Eggers, while Keilman was the standout on her St. John Bosco team.
House said she wanted to go to Morton at first. But changed her mind, thinking she’d get a better education at the parochial school.
She couldn’t be happier with the decision.
“I’m having so much fun here,” she said. “Me and Brenda talk about goals like going down state because our team, as a whole, we all get along so well.”
House led the team in scoring with 15 points against Morton and 16 against Lake Station. She’s typically in double digits.
“Naomi has a good vision of the floor,” Gary said. “She’s been our leading scorer all year. Pennington has been right there with her. I’d say they have a real foundation for the fundamentals and that’s why they’ve done so well. It helps they already have a solid foundation.”
Pennington, likewise, almost attended another high school.
“It was between Noll and Hammond Academy,” she said. “But the basketball program and that I wanted to get my grades up helped me decide that I wanted to come here.”
Keilman followed in her mom’s footsteps, attending Noll. But her mom lettered in volleyball.
She said playing so much varsity has been a huge surprise because she wasn’t sure he’d make the team.
“I worked all summer with them and I wanted to make varsity but I wasn’t sure because a lot of girls tried out this year,” Keilman said.
Keilman started the season playing two quarters on the JV then her last three eligible quarters on the varsity. But she’s picked up her game so much that Gary decreased her time to one quarter on the JV and four on the varsity.
Gary said she keeps her on the JV just to help her continue to build confidence.
“It’s a different pace of the game so she gets some JV time to get acclamated to the varsity more,” Gary said. “What is great about Tori is she is very coachable. She gives a little extra; one thing we talk about is rebounding and being aggressive on the defensive end.
“Her play has improved and it shows in her confidence having that first instinct to be a threat on the floor. Her confidence has increased each game and now she’s asking me how she can get more playing time.”
There’s plenty of playing time to go around with just nine players on the roster. Noll has six juniors and three freshmen on the team.
“We graduated six seniors so it’s very different,” Gary said. “My juniors are excellent leaders by example but my freshmen aren’t afraid to contribute vocally either. I think there’s an unselfishness to our team but there’s plenty of room to grow.”
And there could be plenty of chances to hang a sectional championship banner and more if this keeps up. Only time will tell if the glory days are back.