Jackets’ defense again proves key
Eleven minutes remained in “Pink Day” at Crenshaw Gymnasium. The Randolph-Macon women’s basketball team had been behind to Guilford all afternoon. To avoid a tie with the Quakers for the fourth and final first round bye in the upcoming Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Tournament, something had to change in the Yellow Jackets’ performance.
At that moment, a team who can score with the best of them, turned up the heat on the other side of the floor, standing their ground using one simple adjustment.
When the scoreboard final read Randolph-Macon 80, Guilford 74, reality sunk in. Randolph-Macon allowed just 13 Guilford points in the final 11 minutes. Defense saved the day and clinched a first round tournament bye.
“That’s a big deal for us,” Randolph-Macon head coach Carroll LaHaye said. “For us, having to play in the first round last year, it’s a big deal for our sophomores. They went home after last year and did what they needed to do to improve. They deserve a lot of credit for wanting to turn this around.”
Taylor Huber lines up a free throw against Guilford. She led all scorers with 26 points.
One change made the difference defensively.
“Guilford, for some reason, always gets up for Randolph-Macon. They were on a mission. My assistant coach, Ana Litton, thought at halftime that they would have trouble with a zone defense,” LaHaye explained. “We try not to use it until the second half anyway so teams can’t adjust to it at halftime. We started 2-3, then went 3-2, which really put more pressure on their perimeter players trying to get the ball inside to their scorers.”
While Taylor Huber led the way in scoring with 26 points for the Jackets (11-3 ODAC, 18-5 overall), breaking out of a first half slump to shoot 50 percent from the field after halftime, non-starters played big roles.
Marisha Berry continued her prowess with five more steals, plus four points and three assists. Lauren Vugteveen scored five points in 11 minutes, but stepped in down low defensively, as did freshman Stephanie Staples (Atlee), adding eight points and five rebounds.
Since the loss of Lindsey Sharman, Staples has been counted on more and more to aid Paige Mills, Katie Anderson, and others to produce stops around the basket.
“I’m hard on Stephanie, because I think she has tremendous potential,” LaHaye said. “Sometimes she’ll just stand in the zone defense and I’ll ask her who she’s guarding. But she stepped it up today. Stephanie has super potential.”
“I’m more comfortable getting in front of post players now, and more comfortable going to get rebounds now,” Staples noted. “I’m not afraid of getting hit now.”
LaHaye will need continued progression from the likes of Staples and Vugteveen on the boards, as Guilford won the rebound war 51-38. But chalk another win for the Jackets in the free throw game, as they outscored Guilford at the line 24-8 and took 21 more free throws than the Quakers.
Randolph-Macon can finish as high as second place, no lower than fourth.
“We’ve been talking to the team about a championship mindset and how we have a chance to do something,” LaHaye said. “The kids are responding to that.”
For a team that, at this time last season, was 5-18 rather than 18-5, what a difference a year makes.