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Norse continue to battle into future

CELEBRATE: Northfield’s girls’ basketball celebrates at the conclusion of the regular season win over Rochester, securing the conference title in the process.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

Clint Davis knows the struggles of being a small school in 2018. As Northfield athletic director, he watches it on a regular basis. As the coach of the baseball team, he experiences it daily during the spring.

Despite the limitations, the Norse experienced plenty of success in 2017-18, capturing a Three Rivers Conference (TRC) title in girls’ basketball, advancing to semi-state in baseball and putting forth strong performances on the gridiron and the track.

“We graduated 70-some kids (in athletics),” Davis said. “We have just over 300 kids in our high school. We have one out of every three, actually almost one-and-a-half out of every three students participating in something here at Northfield. That’s credit to our kids, its credit to our administration who supports those kinds of things.

“When you think about it and you look at the lunch tables and think ‘One out of every three of those is an athlete’ that’s big for us because we need those kids and we need those multiple sports kids.”

The fall season was a strong one for the Norse with the football and girls’ golf teams finishing runner-ups in their respective TRC standings while the volleyball team advanced to the sectional final before falling.

In the winter, the girls’ basketball team captured the lone TRC title in dramatic fashion while finishing runner-up in the sectional.

The spring saw the girls’ track team finish second at the TRC meet while the baseball team earned the lone sectional and regional titles for the athletic program of the year.

“As you kind of go through the seasons, football and volleyball both having very good seasons,” Davis said. “Now their tournament runs were cut shorter than they wanted, but our numbers are out in volleyball. Football we were able to field a JV team when schools our size aren’t doing that around the state right now. That’s big.”

“Our boys’ golf team took a hit with graduation. Now we have…four brand new kids with Logan Peas being the only one having any experience. The girls’ golf team numbers were good. Our tennis girls’ team, there’s a bunch. We were about fitting on a minibus. That’s a good problem to have.”

The aforementioned titles for the girls’ basketball and baseball teams, who captured TRC and sectional crowns, respectively, were the easy picks for highlights for Davis.

Specifically for the girls’ basketball team, the de facto TRC title game against Rochester in the final conference battle of the season was particularly memorable. The Norse trailed by five with 22.5 seconds left but staged a comeback that was capped off by an improbable buzzer-beating shot from Kelcie Thomson to send the game into overtime. Northfield would dominate the extra session to earn the conference title.

“The Rochester game our girls won for the conference title. I mean, how crazy was that,” Davis said. “It was one of those things you couldn’t write up and you thought we were done a couple of times. For Kelcie (Thomson) to get that rebound and make that shot at the end of the game, I think that’s a highlight. We had a great crowd for a girls’ regular season game. Our girls winning county, so they win conference and win county….I think are highlights.”

“And then, obviously, for the first time in five or six years, our baseball team making it to a semi-state Saturday. So, like I said, probably that shot against Rochester for our girls’ basketball team and our guys making that run that was probably unexpected…and coming out and making it to semi-state were probably the two highlights.”

The Norse baseball team captured the program’s first regional title in similarly dramatic fashion, walking off winners in the title game over Fremont.

Those two programs, though, symbolize the cyclical nature of participation in athletics for Northfield. After a cycle of having higher turnout in boys sports than girls, the Norse saw a trend begin in the opposite manor this year.

“I think our numbers are up across the board which is, as an athletic director, that’s what you want,” Davis said. “You want as many kids being able to have opportunities to participate as they can. Our girls’ sports now, our numbers are up across the board and we’re really excited about that. And that just happens with the wave of 1A. Our boys’ numbers are down a little bit, just in school, period. So, we’re going to have to get a lot out of a smaller group.

“But the good thing is, all of our coaches want our kids to participate in multiple sports. And that’s always the case even at a small school like this. But I’ve heard…those conversations with our coaches saying ‘Hey, you need to wrestle’ or ‘You need to play basketball’ or whatever that might be and that’s big. That’s, as an athletic director, it doesn’t get much better than a ton of kids participating and coaches who want those kids to participate.”

In the same vein, attendance figures for the Norse remained largely the same, though the source of the highest attendance figures were different than in years past.

“I would say, without pulling numbers, you’re looking kind of close to the same,” Davis said. “Only because, for instance, our boys’ basketball numbers were down a little bit but our girls’ basketball numbers rose. When you look across the board, our football numbers stay pretty the same and every other year you’re going to lose a home football game. That money and those things change every other year because of a nine-game regular season.

“But across the board as far as our attendance…we’re very similar. Like I said, and it’s kind of the cycle, but you rotate with some programs bringing in more and other programs brought in a little bit less. Financially, (attendance) numbers are pretty similar pretty much the last three years, it’s just has changed from where it’s come from one year or another.”

Eyeing the future of athletics at Northfield, the term “consolidation” is one that’ll likely be mentioned for years to come around both Northfield and Wabash County. For Davis, it’ll be business as usual until it isn’t.

“Our coaches all approach (consolidation) as ‘Until they tell us differently, we’re going to be Northfield,’” Davis said. “I think we’re going to compete until they tell us differently. We don’t really talk much about that at all. Everybody’s got their own problems.”

As for the programs themselves, a continued shift toward higher numbers in girls’ sports than boys’ sports will lead to an increased need to get more out of less from the boys’ teams. Overall, though, the Norse will likely remain one of the smallest schools in the TRC as they look to remain competitive.

“We’re going to probably be the second-smallest school in the conference but we’re going to compete to the best of our ability,” Davis said. “I think, and some programs do this more than others, but it does put a little chip on some of our kids’ shoulders when you go into (Class) 3A schools and you’re able to compete and those kinds of things. I don’t think in the middle of the season they think much about it, but when you have 305 kids walking the hallways and you go down to Peru or Maconaquah and you compete with schools that are pushing 700 (students), that’s a big difference in the conference.

“Our guys’ numbers in this (incoming freshman) group aren’t great, to be totally blunt. So, we’re going to have to get a bunch out of those kids in multiple sports. I think our girls, right now, are probably in a little bit better standing. I don’t think there’s a program that we have that we don’t think can compete in our conference or anything. Like I said, if nothing else, it’s a little chip on our shoulder, too. We’re going to be able to compete with fewer kids and that’s just the way it is. One thing I am most proud of more than anything else, our kids across the board no matter what sport it is, are very competitive. That’s fun to watch, win or lose.”