Over a 10-year period, Huntington North battled with Kokomo as the center of Indiana girls basketball. Both won multiple state titles and each had a large and vocal fan base. When the two teams met, it was a clash of titans. It was a great time, covering an outstanding program with great athletes and a Hall of Fame coach. The mania surrounding the Lady Vikings was a real deal, and at the Herald-Press we tried to feed the masses with as much information as we could. The result was some of the best work of my time at the paper, both as a photographer and writer. Here is a sampling of some of the work.
THE STATE CHAMPIONS
1990 STATE CHAMPIONS
When I arrived in Huntington in 1987, the high school girls program was already pretty good. Jenny Eckert had been an Indiana All-Star. One of the first photo assignments I had at the Herald-Press was to get a picture of the new girls coach, Fred Fields.
Huntington North was the only high school we covered, and I got to know Fred pretty well, and he would invite me to go fishing, one of my favorite hobbies.
Fields took the team to the next level, and the Vikings, behind Indiana All-Star Nancy Hoover, went to the state finals in 1989, where they lost in the opening round. It was a fun ride, and with much of the team returning, there was a chance Huntington North could get back to Indianapolis. The next year, I took a lot of my own time to “embed” myself inside the team. Fields gave me behind-the-scenes access to practices. As Huntington North made another run at the finals, we had quite a trove of photos and material to use for projects.
The team had plenty of talent, but their intelligence was probably their top attribute. There were some smart girls on that team, and they absorbed the complexities of Fields' plans. Marcy Hiner, Juli Eckert, Diane Poulson and Jennie Folk were as intelligent as any high school players you could put on the floor. Kamie Arnold could be dominant in the paint. Fields could go eight deep without much of a dropoff. Kim Keefer was a terrific athlete. Heidi Wright gave instant energy, and Amy Johnson was a solid senior.
It didn't all come together right away, though. Through nine games, the team was just 5-4 after dropping two games in the Hall of Fame Classic. But those nine losses were by just a handful of points, so the team was close. They wouldn't lose again, winning their final 20 games.
Duane Schuman was the sports editor at the time. The night before the 1990 state finals, he went to Indy to stay the night. I had to remain in Huntington to cover an event, but planned on heading down the next morning.
But the next morning brought a huge snow and ice storm. I started to head to Indianapolis, only to watch a semi jack-knife in front of me, and I could barely keep my little Honda on the road. I went back to Huntington and missed being on the floor for the game. I spent the day shooting weather shots.
In the semifinals, the Lady Vikings had to overcome a huge deficit to beat Noblesville, then edged out Bedford-North Lawrence in the finals for their first championship.
Because of the weather, Market Square Arena stayed open for Huntington fans to spend the night instead of heading back on the bad roads. Duane did a great job with the coverage, and I still feel bad that I didn’t make it down there for it.
We had wall-to-wall coverage of the huge rally on the team's return to Huntington, and we put out a special section recapping the season. Kamie Arnold was named to the Indiana All-Star team.
Kokomo rose up and won back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, but by 1994 Huntington North was poised for a return. By then, I had taken over as the paper's sports editor.
There was a time from 1994 to 1996 when going to a Huntington North girls basketball game was like going to a rock concert. There were sold-out arenas, groupies and screaming fans. The players certainly were rock stars. The Lady Vikings would take the stage and blow the doors off the building. They were beloved at home, and when they went on the road, they brought their crowd with them. They were so intimidating that many times the psychological game was over before the team even stepped on the court.
Huntington North won 44 straight games over that time, including a state championship in 1995. They were ranked No. 3 in the country.
It was a great time covering the team. Fields was a great interview. He could give a serious breakdown of a game, but at other times could be dryly humorous or bitingly critical. I was good friends with Fred, and he allowed us quite a bit of inside access, and we made the most of it with our coverage.
The players were highly intelligent, many at or near the top of their classes. They also provided great quotes beyond the typical player-talk. They were also immensely talented.
Lisa Winter, a junior who would go on to be named Indiana Miss Basketball as a senior, was clearly in an elite class of player, and at times was unguardable. Abbi Wilson was super-smart, and gave the Vikings their inside presence. At times, Fields would go possession after possession just feeding Wilson in the post for scores until teams had no choice but to double or triple down on her.
April Cunningham was one of the best all-around athletes ever to come through HNHS. She had All-Star talent, but unfortunately suffered a knee injury and missed the end of the season. She was just recently named to the Indiana Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary team.
Stacy Bentley and Kelly Morrison could flat-out shoot the ball. Julie Horrell was an animal on the boards, and Alison Perkins and Julie Young were two more all-around athletes. Young became the first HNHS athlete to earn 12 varsity letters in a career.
As the 94-95 season went along, we helped fuel the Lady Viking mania. We produced multiple features and previews. Huntington North reached the state finals and we put out a special finals edition, breaking down the final four. The community ate it all up. They could not get enough. The Lady Vikes cruised through the season with just one loss, to Roncalli in the Hall of Fame Classic. All that loss did was to irritate the team enough that they resolved they wouldn’t lose again.
Huntington North won the 1995 title, beating a highly-talented Lake Central team in the semifinals, and topping Carmel in the championship. Photographer Doug Hesse and I covered the finals, and got our stories and photos sent back to Huntington in time for deadline. We had already made plans for the win and how we were going to play everything, so it all fell into place.
The next year was going even better. Huntington North was ranked No. 1 from the beginning of the season. The rock show rolled across Indiana and it was a great ride. My challenge was to come up with new ideas to feature the team. There was no doubt the Vikings would win back-to-back championships. I made my reservations for Indianapolis weeks ahead of time and was getting all the finals coverage planned.
But the rock show ended early. Huntington North was upset by Kokomo in the semistate, leaving everyone stunned. We hadn’t prepared for that.
It wasn’t the end of our girls basketball coverage that year. Lisa Winter was named Indiana Miss Basketball, and Fred Fields the coach of the Indiana All-Star team. That meant the All-Stars would be holding their practices in Huntington, and North Arena would host one of the practice games against the Junior All-Stars. We went all-out. We produced a sheet of trading cards with all the players and coaches that would be easy for fans to use for autographs. The Herald-Press sponsored the practice gear the players wore. We had multiple stories on the All-Stars.
It didn’t all go smoothly. When I was in Kentucky to cover the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star game, the job of putting the sports section together was left to one of newer staffers. It was his first time handling the job alone, and he made a mistake. It turned out to be a big one.
He had put in a placeholder caption underneath a photo, intending to add the real caption before going to press. He forgot to replace the placeholder, which are usually just random letters. His placeholder, unfortunately, was profane. It came off the press that way and went out for distribution. In pre-cellphone days, I didn’t know anything about it until I returned the next day from Kentucky.
It was an embarrassing episode in the paper’s history. We offered our apologies in print, but we took our hits. The staffer was fired. But we were able to move on. I like to think that the overall quality of our work the rest of the time helped us to get through the episode.
Huntington North continued to have solid girls basketball teams. Fields left after the 1997 season, and his assistant, Jon Lippe, took over. Lippe, and his successor Don Burton, had some very good teams as well, but the Lady Vikes never made it back to Indianapolis. I left the Herald-Press in 2008, and after that there were some losing seasons. The team still had a decent following, but the frenzied days of the mid-1990s were over.
Those teams are well-represented in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Fields, with his two state titles and a 206-49 record over his 10 years coaching at HNHS, was named to the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Jenny Eckert, who played in the pre-Fields days, was inducted into the Hall in 2014.
Arnold (2015), Poulson (2016) and Cunningham (2020) were selected to Silver Anniversary teams, and the 1995 was inducted into the Hall in 2020. Winter will likely join the Hall in the coming years.
1995 STATE CHAMPIONS
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