Story by Andrew Smith

Coming into the year, a few questions surrounded the New Palestine girls basketball team. The Dragons’ core returned, but the season also brought a new coach and the loss of senior a 1,000-point scorer to graduation. And so, New Pal fans and players alike wondered: Who would step into those shoes as a go-to player, an offensive threat to lead the Dragons? The answer: Leah Seib.

Leah Seib stood next to Katie Herron on the floor at Connersville’s Spartan Bowl, a few precious seconds separating their team from its first sectional title in 14 years.

“I think we just won,” one said to the other.

Moments later, the buzzer confirmed it. A 45-39 victory against Mt. Vernon sent the Dragons on to the regional.

For the Dragons, it was the culmination of a year in which they broke several records, one in which Seib emerged as a leader.

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Seib averaged 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game to lead the Dragons in an 18-7 sectional championship year. She was voted by the Hancock County coaches and media as the Daily Reporter Hancock County Player of the Year.

“As we look back over the season, she was that person who was right at her average every game,” New Pal coach Sarah Gizzi said.

Coming into the year, a few questions surrounded the Dragons. The core returned — Seib was one of four starters coming back from a 17-win team. But the team was welcoming a new coach, and the one graduated starter was 1,000-point scorer Raegan McMurray. One of the biggest question marks was who would step into those shoes as a go-to player and an offensive threat.

Seib began to see it could be she during her spring and summer travel season. As a sophomore, she had tallied 8.4 points per game and was one of the top scorers on a balanced Dragons team. Playing alongside New Palestine point guard Megan Jolly on the Indy Magic travel team, she began to emerge in the offseason, and she entered her junior year seeing herself as a team leader.

“I knew we would be leaders this year,” she said. “Once we started playing, I was thinking ‘I have to be the leader.’”

It immediately carried over into the season. She scored in double figures in each of the Dragons’ first five games, tying her career high with 19 points in a 60-53 win against Perry Meridian on Nov. 25.

She hit that mark twice more during the season but saved her best for last. In the regular season’s final week, she scored 20 points each in wins against Lawrence Central and Ritter, hitting a combined 17 of her 21 shots. In the sectional, she averaged 12.3 ppg over three games and hit 15 of 31 from the field.

Seib creates a difficult matchup for opponents. At 5-feet-11 and with a good touch around the basket, she can play in the post. But she also can play on the perimeter. She is a career 30 percent 3-point shooter.

She has a variety of post moves that allow her to get looks inside, and a strong finishing touch. She was fifth in the Hoosier Heritage Conference in field-goal percentage, hitting at a 51 percent clip.

“I bet the scouting reports talk about her fakes and her up-and-under,” Gizzi said. “It’s something that, even though you know it’s coming, it surprises you every once in a while. She has a really nice mid-range game. She can step out and shoot the 3. She’s put so much time into it and she’s already improved so much. I’m excited to see where she goes for next year, because I know those are areas she’s going to continue to improve and get stronger.”

In the regular season, Seib led the Hoosier Heritage Conference in both rebounding and free-throw shooting, hitting 86 percent from the line. She and Herron were a force on the glass, with each averaging more than six rebounds per game.

Her success and work ethic on the court translates into the classroom, where she is a straight-A student.

“I always want to get As on everything,” Seib said. “When we’d get done with practice, I’d go home and eat dinner, take a shower and do homework at night and do it the next day and the next. If I needed help, I’d text friends or email teachers to make sure I understood everything.”

Basketball has always been a big part of her life. She impressed in elementary leagues and was playing on New Palestine age-group travel teams.

“When I was little, my dad stated on me right away, and said, ‘You’re a basketball player,’” Seib said. “When I got older, I was doing good things and learning stuff in the (Indy Girls Hoops League) and improving a lot, I thought ‘I could be good at this.’”

The core of those travel teams became the core of the Dragons’ sectional championship team. NP had eight juniors on the roster, seven of whom have played together through elementary and middle school, a group Seib said is “basically a big family.”

After winning the sectional and pushing then-No. 1 Pike to the limit in the regional, they’re looking forward to one final high school season.

“I’m looking forward to hanging out with everybody again,” Seib said. “It’s our senior year, so everybody is going to want to win. We have nothing to lose because we have one year left. That extra drive and motivation of it being our senior year will make us really good.”

GIRLS

Player of the Year: Leah Seib, New Palestine

Seib, a 5-foot-11 junior forward, averaged 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Dragons, who went 18-7 this season. She was the HHC’s leading rebounder and leading free-throw shooter during the regular season, and twice tallied 20 points.

First team

Hannah Farrell, Greenfield-Central

The 5-foot-9 sophomore guard was a key player for Greenfield-Central. She scored 14.2 points per game and led the county in scoring. She also averaged 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Hoosier Heritage Conference co-champions. She led the HHC in assists and was third in steals.

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Megan Jolly, New Palestine

The Dragons’ 5-foot-5 junior point guard totaled 9.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game and was the floor general for a sectional championship team. She finished third in the HHC in assists and fourth in steals.

Jenna Smith, Eastern Hancock

The 5-foot-9 junior forward tallied 9.4 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Royals. She led the county in rebounding and field-goal shooting, hitting 53 percent from the floor.

Sophie Williams, Mt. Vernon

The 5-foot-10 senior forward was a key part of Mt. Vernon’s run to the sectional title game. She tallied 9.9 points and 7.0 rebounds this season. In the regular season, she was the HHC’s second-leading rebounder.

Second team

Haley Best, Jr. G, Eastern Hancock

Katie Herron, Jr. C, New Palestine

Sydnee Perry, So. G, Mt. Vernon

Katie Real, Jr. G, Greenfield-Central

Lexi Shelton, Fr. G/F, Mt. Vernon

Brittany Wheeler, Sr. F, Greenfield-Central

Honorable mention

Eastern Hancock: Liberty Durham, Chloe O’Neal

Greenfield-Central: Jessica Farrell

Mt. Vernon: Mary Fleming

New Palestine: Tatum Biddle, Haley Harrison

Coach of the Year: Sarah Gizzi, New Palestine


Coming next week

Stay tuned for more of the county’s best athletic talents. Next week, we’ll profile the boys basketball Daily Reporter All-County Team and name the player and coach of the year we couldn’t stop watching this season.

Editor’s note: Each year, Hancock County coaches, as well as Daily Reporter correspondents and NineStar TV broadcasters who cover all four local teams, are asked to weigh in on the season’s best. Coaches may not vote for themselves for coach of the year or their own players for player of the year. Daily Reporter correspondent Andrew Smith, a New Palestine employee, abstained from voting.