No longer 'terrified,' Mid-Prairie's Nora Pennington attacks final season

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 12/2/23

One word defined Nora Pennington’s first varsity basketball game more than four years ago.

“I was terrified,” she said.

She didn’t start in that November 2020 …

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No longer 'terrified,' Mid-Prairie's Nora Pennington attacks final season


One word defined Nora Pennington’s first varsity basketball game more than four years ago.

“I was terrified,” she said.

She didn’t start in that November 2020 season-opening game for Mid-Prairie. She didn’t score a basket, although the fact she actually took two shots might be a surprise.

Pennington is now a senior for the Golden Hawks. She is a team captain, along with close friend Jovi Evans and Callie Huber. Pennington’s outgoing personality is already pumping energy into this team on court and off the court. But back then?

“A little scared,” said her cousin, Amara Jones, who graduated earlier this year and was the team’s starting point guard and leading scorer last season. “She was quiet. Now, no one would believe that Nora was quiet. Her freshman year, she was quiet. She didn’t like to shoot.”

“I never got JV minutes,” Pennington said. “It was a big difference from eighth grade to varsity.”

Pennington had more steals (40) than baskets (27) her freshman season. She started three games. Mostly, she was a defensive weapon utilized by head coach Danny Hershberger to strike terror into an opposing team’s backcourt. She lunged after balls, dove after them on the court and rushed at opposing players as if she was a linebacker in a bad mood. Look at her knees, and you’d see black-and-blue marks, the true signs of a basketball warrior.

That was all built in the Pennington driveway.

When you’re the younger sister of a guy who was the starting guard for the school’s boys basketball team, yes, there will be one-on-one confrontations in front of the hoop in the family driveway. Usually, Jack Pennington won those battles. But not always.

“Only time I beat him was when he jumped in, he went in there with his face and had a bloody nose,” Nora said, laughing. “So I won that game.”

Now that Nora is in her senior year at high school and Jack is off at college, the bond remains strong. There are nights when Nora finds game videos from Jack’s high school games and secretly watches them.

“Jack has actually always been someone that I looked up to,” Nora said.

Jack Pennington was one of the starting seniors who led Mid-Prairie’s boys basketball team to a school-record 24 wins, a River Valley Conference championship and a state tournament appearance in 2022. This year, Nora is teaming up with Evans, Katelyn Harland, Olivia Swartzendruber and Brooklyn Schneider in a backcourt that is packed with speed, shot makers and defensive pressure.

“It has been fun watching the girls teams the past few years, especially last season with both my cousin and sister wreaking havoc on opposing teams’ offenses,” Jack Pennington said.

When the Golden Hawks opened this season with an 82-40 victory against Fairfield two days before Thanksgiving, Amara Jones was in the stands.

“It seems like they played how they wanted to play,” said Jones, a University of Iowa freshman. “They just looked great. They shared the ball very nicely and that’s what I was most impressed with.”

Mid-Prairie hadn’t reached 80 points since 2017 against Central Lee.

Evans, who won a state championship last spring in track on the 4x200 relay team with cousin Amara, led the team with 15 points. Both Evans and Pennington had 6 steals. Harland, a sophomore, had 7 assists. Schneider, a freshman, had 7 steals in her high school debut.

Huber, a junior center, and Harper Pacha, a sophomore forward, provide the muscle and the size for a team loaded with fast-moving guards.

In the middle of it are Pennington, who ranked among the top 10 in the River Valley South last season in steals, and Evans, who has emerged as one of the top scorers on the team.

“She’s a great person,” Nora Pennington said of Evans. “She’s one of my best friends, actually. So we have really good chemistry when we’re playing on the court together. I just think she’s so fast that I could just ditch it to her and then she makes that layup. It doesn’t just make her look good, it’s going to make her whole team look good because of the effort she puts in.”

“Off the court, we’re always talking, we’re always chatting it up,” Evans said. “So on the court, it’s just natural. It’s just what we do. It just makes it so much easier and more fluent on the court because we have trust in each other and we have faith in each other.”

Pennington is the only senior on a team that made it to the Class 3A regional semifinals last season, a year that ended with her cousin, Amara Jones, in tears following a season-ending loss to Vinton-Shellsburg.

Now Pennington is that leader. And she shows it. She’s the first to jump off the bench when a teammate hits a shot. She’s loving every minute of it.

“I can be myself this year,” she said. “It’s just really nice to be able to come out of my shell a little bit.”

News columnist Paul Bowker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @bowkerpaul

Mid-Prairie, girls basketball, Nora Pennington