The last Saturday in January and the first in February are likely to decide who wins the Chagrin Valley Conference's Chagrin Division.
In their quest for three CVC titles in three seasons the Kenston Bombers girls basketball team will travel first to Perry then to Aurora. The Greenmen started the week with just one CVC loss (to Kenston). Perry started with two (but Perry beat Kenston in Kenston.)
The good news for coach Kevin Hinkle to start the week is the Bombers control their own destiny, especially after the convincing 45-29 home win against West Geauga. The Wolverines beat Perry at home January 6.
Behind Mandy Marchant's 10 points, the Bombers used a suffocating full-court defensive pressure to hold the Wolverines to just 11 first-half points.
"We were very solid on the defensive end," said Hinkle, "which is an improvement from what we've been doing. I think everybody is starting to understand we have to adjust to our roles."
The Bombers all agreed after the game that defense is important to their success, and their coach.
"Yeah," said a laughing Marchant when asked about Hinkle's penchant to preach defense in practice. "We do not want to gamble on defense; we're told to be solid. We rely on each other for defensive help. That ultimately got us a couple of turnovers tonight that went in our favor."
Katie Ross said the defense is what gets the team going.
"If our defense is there, we can get a quick rebound and a steal and we get a quick advantage on offense and push it up the floor," the senior said. "We like to run and our defense leads to our offense."
And Tess Ferguson said the defense regained a fire that had gone out the past two weeks. "We've definitely struggled lately with just being solid," Ferguson said. "With the teams in the CVC, coach Hinkle likes a lot of pressure, and also staying solid and boxing out."
The game started with a Marchant jump shot and a Grace Moran steal that led to a layup. Soon, the Bombers had built a 13-6 first quarter lead and the Wolverines would not get any closer.
Of note was the game's professional and exceptional officiating. And coach Hinkle's electric blue shirt and black tie combination. With his wife Carrie, who coaches the Newbury girls, the Hinkles are the best-dressed coaches in Geauga County.
At one point Kenston's lead swelled to 35-17, a sign that the Bombers were in fact twice as good as the score indicated on the night.
"Sorry we couldn't be more entertaining," said an exasperated West Geauga coach Cheryl Rye. "We panicked a little bit with the ball, and didn't trust our teammates to communicate on defense. We're not good enough individually like Kenston. Our biggest asset is our five players playing together on the court, and, tonight, we were five individuals."
Only Caitlin Curtis established her individuality in the score book, tallying 12 points, including three 3-pointers. Junior Brianne Goodrich was second with seven points.
Kenston's Marchant has taken a more active role in the team's offense the past few weeks, Hinkle said.
"I just decided I was at first really nervous at the beginning of the season," Marchant said. "And I decided to just go out and play instead of thinking about it too much." Marchant said she now feels more comfortable and her teammates have helped her confidence.
"Mandy has been getting a lot of assists and rebounds," Hinkle said. "She's really done a good job of the little things of late." The coach noted that the team, 8-4 as of Monday, is starting to understand and adjust to their roles. "We're pretty balanced in that anyone can lead us in scoring," he said. "The more unselfish we are, the better we play. They're learning to gel together, and I think we're getting there."
For West Geauga, the season reached a high point when it defeated Perry 50-43, a game where all 10 Wolverines played well. At 5-5, the team "has shown flashes of brilliance and at the same time, we've not played some good basketball at times," coach Rye said. "We need to work on our consistency and our confidence."
The starting five of Nicole Leonette, Sadie Poe, Lindsay Visner, Goodrich and Curtis are still working to improve.
When Kenston played Perry, Hinkle said it was not the Bombers' best game. "But you have games like that," he said. "Credit them for doing the job."
The West Geauga win gave the Wolverines new hope. "This gave us a spark," Katie Ross said. "We had that good win against Aurora. And now this boosts our confidence again. After the Perry game it was hard. But tonight the girls stepped up, everybody stepped up."
Ross and Ferguson, as seniors, have experienced former seniors, their friends, playing in their last varsity games. Ferguson said that lets them know what to expect.
"We know we only have a couple of games left," she said.
"This season has already gone so fast," Ross said. "I love the team, the girls are great. Everyone comes in and works hard. Our goal is obviously districts and regionals. As a senior, I try and get the girls spirits up. The days get monotonous, and we had finals this week. Coming in its hard, but we try to keep everyone going."
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