Winters sisters hoping for an enjoyable fall
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
With a sister who plays the same sports, Jaiden Winters never has to look far to get a lift, and for the New Prairie sophomore, that doesn't just mean a ride to golf or basketball practice from Jordan, a senior.
"She's somebody to compete with," Jaiden said. "We go together to the range, to tournaments. It's fun. She's not just a teammate, she's my sister."
Every once in a while, the Winters girls will make it a little more interesting, particularly on the course at Morris Park, where the loser has to do the other's chores.
"We have cats, so it's like you have to change the litter box for a whole week," Jaiden said.
"It's definitely fun to play with her," Jordan said. "She likes golf more than me and I like basketball more than her. She gives me competition. She makes me want to get better."
Given the two-year age difference, the sisters typically weren't on the same teams growing up. They both play AAU basketball with the Northwest Indiana Thunder, though Jordan would be in an older division. It often worked the same in golf tournaments, where Jaiden would occasionally play up an age group so one wouldn't have to wait on the other. Teammates for the first time in the 2019 prep season, both qualified for the Lafayette Jefferson Regional, the high point of their careers up to this moment. In basketball, Jordan led New Prairie in scoring, while Jaiden played in 11 varsity games as a freshman.
All that meant the 2020-21 school year was going to be particularly special for them since it would be their final chance to play prep sports together. The COVID-19 pandemic cast doubt over high school athletics, so the opportunity to tee it up this week meant a lot.
"There's no reason not to play. Golf is the most socially distanced sport," Jordan said. "Finding out we were going to get to play, it was a big relief. I didn't want to throw away my senior year."
With four returning starters and improved overall depth behind the Winters', New Prairie should be in the hunt to advance as a team out of the sectional, a radical improvement from just two seasons ago, when the Cougars were 66 strokes out of third place. Last year, the margin was 11.
"When the whole thing started, at least we could play golf. The courses were open pretty much from the start," Jaiden said. "We didn't have (in-person) school April, May, so we played a lot. Then I was starting to worry, are we going to have a high school season? I want to have a season. It's my sister's senior year and we have a lot of potential."
Both girls added some yards to their games, picking up distance with some changes made by their new swing instructor.
"I gained so much distance with my driver, I'm hitting like 50 yards farther," Jaiden said. "I was realizing that (Monday). A couple holes, I was like 128 yards and I pulled an 8-iron over the green. I feel like I'm learning from the mistakes I used to make. Last year, I'd get in a bunker and have a hard time getting out. My scores don't show it yet, but I'm playing smarter."
Jordan was already a long hitter, so her yardage spike wasn't quite as radical. The key for her isn't so much the size as it is the shape.
"I hit it far, but I'm not necessarily the straightest -- that's where I run into trouble," said Jordan, who hopes to break 40 for nine holes and make the all-Northern Indiana Conference team again. "I probably lost five balls (Tuesday at Knollwood). I have started hitting it straighter. I'm trying to work with my driver, my longer clubs. My biggest thing is inconsistency. I'll have three good holes, then three bad holes. My scores don't show that I had good shots. Part of the fact is neither course so far had a (practice) range. Being able to warm up makes a difference in how I play."
Both girls are coming off a hectic July that saw them juggle their sports. Since AAU basketball couldn't be played in the spring, the season was squeezed into the last month, meaning they had to work in golf amid their hoops travels. Both played up an age group since the rosters were thin, a result of players and families choosing not to participate.
"It was good, it was just a lot," Jordan said. "It cut into our time on the course practicing. I'm still a little off."
In addition, learning the coronavirus protocols helped them acclimate to what lied ahead, the 'new normal,' as Jaiden called it.
"Everyone wore a mask until they got to the bench, then you'd leave the bench, you had to put it back on," Jaiden said of the AAU tourneys. "It went really well. I felt really safe. Now (with golf), it's putting with the flag stick in, everything. Monday, on the bus, we sat in every other seat because we couldn't sit close together. Tuesday, there were only four of us. The fifth drove herself."
Though New Prairie's back to school plan isn't official yet, the reported recommendation is splitting time with two days in school, two homework days and E-Learning on Friday.
"Part of the alphabet goes on certain days and the other part on the other days," Jaiden said. "The whole is to get class sizes lower, to ease back into things. I hope we don't follow La Porte and Michigan City. I hope we can go back to school."
The same goes for her sister.
"I want to go back all the way," Jordan said. "I want to see everyone. I do better when I'm at school. But as long as there is golf and sports, I'll be fine with the hybrid plan. At the beginning (in the spring), I was upset because it was cancelling school activities. I'm just thankful I didn't play spring sports. It didn't me as hard."
Now it's a question of what will happen going forward with so many variables still to consider, including the risk of some sports being shut down.
"I hope sports can exist independently," Jordan said. "They are so different, based on having contact or no contact."
Jordan, left, and Jaiden Winters of New Prairie both qualified for the regional last year. The sisters are hoping for a full season and the opportunity to lead an experienced Cougars lineup to a team berth in the regional. (Photo by Jim Peters)