The Dragons have scored 310 points, and every one of those points — along with each rebound, assist, steal, block and turnover — has been registered by a freshman and sophomore. One of the youngest varsity teams in the state, New Palestine’s trek has gone as expected. Nearly halfway through their 20-game regular season, the Dragons are 2-7.
The worst may be over, however. The Dragons picked up a 39-36 win over Yorktown in their last game, Saturday. New Pal’s other victory was over a historically bad Arlington team, 77-16, Nov. 27. But Yorktown entered the weekend at 6-3, and had lost to defending 3A state finalist Mt. Vernon by only 13 points just one week earlier.
“It was huge for us,” NP coach Jacki Negri said of the Hoosier Heritage Conference win over the Tigers. “The best part of the win was that they really deserved it, and you saw the improvement. Not taking anything away from Delta and Shelbyville (40-34 and 52-44 winners over New Palestine, respectively, early this month), but those were winnable games for us. We just made some huge turnovers down the stretch because of our lack of experience. We didn’t make those mistakes against Yorktown.”
Haley Stratman — The Dragons’ five-foot-9 freshman forward is averaging a team-high 10.1 points, good for sixth in the county. Against Yorktown Saturday, Stratman hit a key 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter to tie the game at 28-28 after the Tigers had turned an eight-point deficit into a four-point lead.
New Palestine appears to have found its rebuilding cornerstone in Stratman, the younger sister of former Indiana All-Star and current Butler sophomore center Liz Stratman.
“She’s a coach’s dream,” Negri said of Haley. “Her work ethic, her attitude. She’s a great shooter. She’s takes constructive criticism well, which is not something that all kids can handle.
“But, really, the whole team is coachable. They’re all good kids. I have not had any off those kinds of issues. It’s been great.”
Carly Hackler — The 5-10 freshman center is routinely matched up against older, more experienced post players, but Hackler has managed to pull down a team-high 4.8 board per game, the fifth best average in the county. Hackler opened the season still on the mend from a knee injury.
“We weren’t sure how well she would do early on,” Negri said. “Because of the injury, she hadn’t played in a real game in close to a year.
“So, we were pleasantly surprised that she was able to contribute right away.”
Negri added that 5-8 sophomores Gia Nitschke (4.4 ppg) and Adie Lorsung (2.7 ppg) have developed at a quicker-than-expected pace.
“They’re really starting to step up,” the third-year coach said.
“Maybe not a ton of points, but what they’re doing on defense and with their hustle is really helping us.”
Other than Beech Grove (0-11) Jan. 15, the Dragons’ schedule down the stretch doesn’t reveal many winnable games. The only other New Pal foe with a losing record is 4A Lawrence Central (3-5).
“I think there’s a chance to get a couple wins,” Negri said. “Beech Grove. And we would have to play really well, but maybe Eastern Hancock. But that’s being optimistic.”
The Dragons drew Mt. Vernon in the Hancock County Tourney semifinals Dec. 27, and, barring an upset, will face either 4A Greenfield-Central (3-6) or 2A Eastern Hancock (7-3) in the consolation.
Regardless of the Dragons’ final won-loss total, they’re getting better, and should continue to do so. Over their first three games, New Palestine averaged 19.6 points and allowed 65.6. In the last five games (following the Arlington mismatch), the Dragons are scoring 34.8 points and giving up 48.
“For someone who doesn’t see us everyday, doesn’t see us practice, they might just look at our record and not see what we see,” Negri said. “Even after Mt. Vernon beat us (67-30 Dec. 13), our heads weren’t down. The girls were saying, ‘We ran this play right,’ or ‘Did you see us do this, coach?’ So, they’re competitive, but they understand this will take time.
“Their attitude is great and, down the road, this is going to be a very, very good basketball team.”