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It was a long 16 games for coach Todd Marquardt and the Vandalia Junior High eighth-grade basketball team.
But once the final seconds ticked off in the team’s first win of the season against Stew-Stras last Friday, Marquardt said the 26-16 score gave the team the confidence it had needed to find.
“That validates what they’re doing,” Marquardt said. “It shows the girls that when we get against a team that is similar to us, if we can do some things right, we can come out with a win.”
Vandalia followed its first win with an encore in its final home game of the season against short-handed Ramsey in a 28-7 victory on Monday in front of the same supportive crowd that has been there all season.
“It felt good,” Marquardt said. “I’m not going to lie to you.”
Impressively, the Vandals did all that without their best player, Mercedes Reynolds, who was sidelined for the season with a left ankle injury against Litchfield on Nov. 2.
Her absence has allowed several other players to step into bigger roles – on offense and defense.
Alex Sasse and Elizabeth Miller stepped up offensively the past two games, with Sasse scoring 12 points on Friday and Miller netting 12 on Monday.
“Most of them were from steals,” Marquardt said of Sasse’s points. “She’s always been our defensive specialist.”
Defense has been the forte of the Vandals this year, even though they have given up more than 50 points in a game several times.
With those games diminishing morale, Marquardt said he made the girls focus on how well they did at defending individual players and focusing less on how many points the opponent scored in transition.
Against Stew-Stras and Ramsey, the team played stout defense, which led to points for its offense. Miller was a key to that by earning rebounds on both the offensive and defensive ends.
“There’s a good post player inside that kid when she grows,” Marquardt said. “She’s going to develop when she gets to high school.”
Ashley and Kelsey Swain have also used their size to earn rebounds in the paint and combined to score 18 points in the two wins.
“But when we made that turning point and decided to really start playing defense, that’s when it made a difference,” Marquardt said.
After closing the regular season at Pana St. Patrick’s on Thursday, the Vandals will advance to play Greenville in the regional tournament.
The Blue Jays have defeated Vandalia twice this season, by scores of 25-14 and 39-9, but Marquardt said that is no reason to believe the Vandals won’t compete.
“I think it’s an opportunity if we play well,” he said. “I know (Greenville isn’t) going to be expecting much of a game, and we have more game than we did before.”
Monday, Nov. 15
Scoring – Miller, 12; A. Swain, 4; K. Swain; Kate Evans, 3; Sasse, 2; Nicole Wells, 2; Haley Cannon, 1.
Friday, Nov. 12
Scoring – Sasse, 12; A. Swain, 6; K. Swain, 4; Madison Click, 4.
Season scoring leaders
Reynolds – 74 points
Sasse – 35 points
Miller – 33 points
A. Swain – 30 points
K. Swain – 25 points
Click – 16 points
Cannon – 16 points
Evans – 15 points
Wells – 9 points
Jori Wagner – 7 points