Warsaw — As if the legend of Nicole Rogers wasn’t already firmly cemented into the lore of Howard County basketball, Saturday’s performance in the Class 3A North Semistate left no doubt.
The 5-foot-11 senior wing scored 23 points in her team’s 46-35 loss to Fort Wayne Concordia one game short of the state finals, but Rogers did everything in her power to attempt to change the Panthers’ fortunes.
She scored 17 points in a four-and-a-half minute stretch of the third quarter where Western cut a 15-point deficit down to two points, giving the upstart Panthers a glimmer of hope before they ran out of gas.
That stretch of the game portrayed the Indiana All-Star candidate and IUPUI recruit in a nutshell: Rogers always did what she could to give her team a chance to win.
“The bottom line is, Nicole as a senior, and like most players, she matured as a senior,” Western coach Chris Keisling said. “She came into the season totally understanding her role on the team as a leader and a scorer. But, she’s also a winner, and a winner does whatever it takes to win ballgames. So, you saw nights where she scored eight or 12, but you look at her rebounding stats and her ability to handle the ball, and her passing — she had the ability to give whatever it took to win a ballgame.
“If Nicole Rogers is not an All-Star, then we have one whale of an All-Star team. She performed like an All-Star player two games in a row here [including 23 points in a 36-34 win over South Bend St. Joseph’s in the regional final], and has all year.”
Her final prep performance was an abrupt ending to what has been a career seldom paralleled in the Tribune area. With 23 points Saturday, Rogers finished her career with 1,593 points while playing for four different coaches, ranking her second all-time in the history of Howard County girls basketball. She trails only Tiffany Longworth, who scored 1,936 points for Kokomo 1989-1993.
Rogers’ Panthers went 51-41 in her four years, and claimed the program’s first regional title after winning its first sectional since 1989.
“I’ve had great teammates all four years, and am proud of all of them,” Rogers said. “Four different coaches really wasn’t an obstacle for me because we’ve had great coaches each time. They came in and led us great, and did what they could do. I loved [Keisling] and couldn’t have asked for better coaches and teammates.
“Good luck to [Western] next year. I know they’re going to keep fighting hard and not let down. I hope they get even farther than we did this year because we started something really great.”
Her performances on and off the hardwood caught the attention of many others. Concordia coach Dave Miller wrestled with ideas on how to guard Rogers heading into the semistate clash before deciding to play man-to-man. The Cadets held Rogers to three points in the first half on 1-of-7 shooting before she erupted for 17 in the third period.
“Rogers is just an outstanding player,” Miller said. “We did a great job on her the first half, but you know she’s going to make some shots and some point. She’s just very very good. She’s averaging 22 points a game, and she’s capable of going off and getting more than that. She moves really well without the ball, and when she catches it she shoots it so fast. She’s so long that you’re not going to block it.”
As a student, Rogers has been a great ambassador for Western High School. She holds a 11.4 on a 12.0 scale and is a nominee for the academic all-state team.
“Nicole does a lot of nice things. She’s a very good student in the classroom and takes her academics seriously,” Western athletic director Ryan Berryman said. “She has a lot of supporters, and is good about giving back to the community and being a positive influence for younger kids. She’s had a great career. You see all these little girls following the team these last few weeks. She’s been eating that up and the kids really look up to Nicole and the other girls. It’s really neat to see where this team’s gone, and a lot of that has been Nicole’s leadership. She’s going to be missed, but she’s done a lot of good things for us.”
The job of being a role model is one Rogers takes very seriously. It’s what she hopes she’s remembered for the most.
“It’s great feeling, because I like that I’m a role model for the little kids,” Rogers said. “I want them to work just as hard as I have to get where I am because it’s a great feeling and a lot of fun. It sucks to lose, but at least we fought hard and our determination was great. I want them to be proud of us. We’re the best girls team to ever go through our school, and that’s what I want the little kids to remember. I want them to look forward to keeping the tradition alive when they get to high school.”