The New Prairie girls basketball program has come a long way in a relatively short time under Aimee Litka.
Litka, the third-year Coach of the Cougars, just wants to make sure that her resurgent program continues to trend upward.
“The thing is that our girls know we can win,” said Litka. “It’s a process in learning how to win and something that we are still working on.
“There is more of an expectation to win, but it’s an ongoing process. The thing is that we have the tools to be successful. We just have to sharpen them and continue to work and not get comfortable.”
The Cougars are 5-3 after downing LaPorte 60-25 Saturday night. New Prairie started its season 4-0 with wins over Concord, Plymouth, Wheeler and Saint Joseph before a three-game losing skid with tough losses to non-conference foe South Central (69-61) and NIC opponents Elkhart (67-59) and Adams (71-67 in overtime).
“I think we started 4-0 and got a little comfortable,” noted Litka of the three-game losing streak. “In all three of those losses, we had more than 20 turnovers. That’s just too many. And we had one bad quarter in each of those three games that really hurt us.”
“But we’re 5-3 now and in a good position to have a successful season.”
Litka inherited a program that had endured 16 straight losing seasons and had four coaches in the previous eight seasons before she was hired in 2020. She guided the Cougars to a 7-12 mark her first season and an 11-12 record a season ago.
“We had a really good summer,” Litka said. “We went to team camp and that was a great bonding experience for this group. I think they believe in where we are at.”
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The Cougars are led by a deep and talented group of guards. The trio of senior Eva Dodds and Juniors Jayden Flagg and Morgan White lead the way. Dodds is averaging 13.6 ppg., while Flagg and White each are at 11 ppg. Junior Jolie Johns is another key for New Prairie, especially on the defensive end. Johns also averages 9 ppg.
“We have four dynamic guards who set the tone for us,” said Litka, who was an Assistant Coach at IUSB before taking over in New Carlisle. “They all have different dynamics to their game. But they compete hard and they like each other.
“The thing I like about this team is our defense. It creates our offense. It’s a group that is also unselfish offensively.”
“When each of our players are doing what they do best we are pretty good. If we put all the pieces together at the same time we can be very good.”
Litka was a star player at Saint Joseph in South Bend, where she helped the Indians earn a Class 3A state title in 2005 in a 25-1 season. She was an Indiana All-Star after scoring 1,698 prep points. Litka then played at Valparaiso University before serving as the Holy Cross College Women’s basketball head coach from 2011-19 and also as its Athletic director from 2013-19.
The Cougars have a key NIC game versus potential Sectional foe Marian on Nov. 29. They then play Class 4A Powerhouse Washington on Dec. 6.
“The key for us is consistency and taking care of the basketball,” said Litka. “We just need to work to piece four quarters together.
“We have to tighten up the controllables and not have New Prairie beat New Prairie.”
Panthers primed for Clash
A nice ring to it … South Bend Washington honors its IHSAA girls basketball Champs
Washington will get another chance to make a statement come Saturday night.
The Class 4A No. 1 Panthers, who are ranked No. 15 nationally by ESPN, face Defending 4A state Champion Noblesville in the Sneakers 4 Santa tourney at Brownsburg.
“We go to Sneakers 4 Santa in hopes of playing the very best the Indy area has to offer,” said Washington Coach Steve Reynolds Sunday. “This year we got Defending 4A champ Noblesville, a very tough, scrappy and well-coached team. Last year after the 4A state final, I remember several people saying, I wish we could have seen a Washington/Noblesville matchup. Well, now we got it.”
Washington, which put on a dominating state tourney run to win the Class 3A title last season, is 5-0. The Panthers trailed 20-11 after the opening period at NIC foe Penn Friday night. Washington ended up beating the Kingsmen 86-45. Star guard Rashunda Jones poured in 32 points, including a sizzling shooting show from deep as the Purdue Recruit hit 8-of-8 from 3-point land. Sophomore Sensation Kira Reynolds had 31 points to go with 16 rebounds and five blocked shots in the win.
Noblesville, ranked No. 5 in 4A, went 25-4 a season ago and drubbed Franklin 76-52 in the 4A title game following Washington’s record-setting 93-35 win over Silver Creek in the 3A finale. The Millers, under longtime Coach Donna Buckley, were slated to return everyone this season. However, star senior guard and UConn Recruit Ashlynn Shade opted to transfer to La Lumiere in LaPorte County in the offseason. Shade, ranked as the sixth best player nationally in the Class of 2023 and a huge favorite before transferring to win Miss Basketball honors this season, averaged 21 points and nine rebounds as a junior. She scored 31 points in the 4A state title game. Shade is not eligible now for Miss Basketball as La Lumiere is a prep school and not a member of the IHSAA.
“Shade is a tough and talented player who Noblesville has missed,” Reynolds said. “But we also see a next man up mentality from them as I know they want to prove they are good without her. As competitors, we were looking forward to competing against her because we believe our senior guards (Amiyah Reynolds and Rashunda Jones) are every bit as good as her. We will get our chance to measure up vs Shade when we play La Lumiere. For right now, Noblesville has plenty enough for us to worry about.”
Noblesville is 5-0 and faces Carmel Tuesday night before playing Washington. The Panthers, who boast a winning margin of 48 points per game so far, play at Saint Joseph in NIC action Tuesday night.
Kira Reynolds leads Washington with 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots per game. Jones is at 19 points and five steals per outing. Senior star and Maryland bound Amiyah Reynolds is at 12 points and six assists with sophomore Monique Mitchell at 10 points a game and sophomore Ryiah Wilson at 8.6 and six steals per outing.
Washington plays at La Lumiere on January 28 in the regular-season finale. The Panthers lost 55-54 to La Lumiere at home last year, one of just three losses.
Northern Indiana Conference (through Saturday)
Washington 5-0 (3-0), Elkhart 5-2 (3-0), Marian 5-1 (2-1), Penn 3-2 (2-1), Adams 3-2 (2-1), Glenn 3-4 (2-1), Bremen 2-4 (1-1), New Prairie 5-3 (1-2), Saint Joseph 1-4 (1-2), Jimtown 1-5 (0-3 ), Clay 1-5 (0-3), Riley 1-5 (0-3).
Northern Lakes Conference (through Saturday)
Wawasee 4-3 (1-0), Northridge 4-1 (0-0), Warsaw 4-1 (0-1), Goshen 3-1 (0-0), Mishawaka 5-2 (0-0), NorthWood 2-1 (0-0), Plymouth 2-4 (0-0), Concord 2-4 (0-1).
Other area teams: LaVille 3-2 (0-0 HNAC), Triton 5-1 (0-1 HNAC), Fairfield 5-1 (1-0 NECC), Michigan City 1-4 (0-0 DAC), LaPorte 0-5 (0-0 DAC), South Central 4-1.