Merrill girls up to the task at co-leading SPASH
The Bluejay girls faced one of their toughest tests of the season thus far on the road in Stevens Point on Friday.
Passed with flying colors.
Both Merrill and SPASH had entered the contest with 2-0 Valley and 6-3 overall records, but it was the Jays emerging with the 3-0, 7-3 mark.
MHS won 46-38.
“It was a really big win for us,” Merrill coach Melissa Yuska said. “The girls came out and gave a great full-team effort.
“I thought we started off the first couple of minutes lacking on the boards again, but the girls adjusted and did what they needed to do to win.”
One adjustment the Panthers made concerned concentrating resources on MHS junior post player Renee Sladek, the WVC’s leading scorer (19.7 ppg) and rebounder (9.7 rpg).
One problem to that strategy is Sladek is #3 in assists at 3.7 apg.
“They really focused on Renee,” Yuska said. “She was still able to get 18 points, but it was great to see Brianna (LaMonica) step up, too. Renee would get triple-teamed and she would kick it back out, and Brianna was able to make the shot.
“We really played team basketball. The first two minutes may have been a little less than what we’re capable of, but after that we took advantage of every possession we had. The girls played with a lot of heart.
“It’s exciting because these are tough teams that we’re playing. (Point) was picked to win our conference at the beginning of the season. This team is competitive and you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
The early strong stretch powered Point to 14 points in the 1st, although a pair of LaMonica threes boosted Merrill to 11. The Jays cut it to 25-24 by the half with 7 points from Sladek and a Dawn Leland trey.
But the Bluejays limited the Panthers to just one point while scoring 8 in the 3rd, and put it away with a 13-11 fourth, aided by 7 from Sladek and a Lindsay Krueger bomb.
Switching defenses didn’t help Point in this game.
“They threw man (-to-man) and zone defenses at us and we were prepared for both,” Yuska said.
But the Bluejays seemed to be prepped for the Panthers.
“They like to push the ball in transition,” Yuska said. “We did very well on defense, with much better transition defense. I think they got one transition bucket. We wanted to pressure their point guard, who likes to penetrate with the ball. Reegan (Byer) did a great job on her.”
The Bluejays are building a perpetual cycle of improvement.
“They’ve been working hard in practice and it’s paying off in games with wins,” Yuska said. “Then I can push them harder in practice because they can see it pays off.”
Sladek came up big with 18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Other conspicuous contributions came from: Lamonica (11 p, 3 r, 3 a); Leland (7 p, 3 bl); Krueger (5 p, 4 r); Anna Finnell (4 p); and Byer (3 r).
Merrill–FG: 13-30 (43%); FT: 16-24 (67%). SPASH–FG: 13; FT: 9-16 (56%).
The Jays will host D.C. Everest–the only other 3-0 team in the Valley–at 7:45 p.m. on Friday night. It will be part of a co-ed double-header, with the boys’ squads playing at 6:00 p.m.
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