Warriors look sharp in first game back
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to shake off any lingering rust from their two-week winter break.
In fact, it was hard to believe Whittell even took the holidays off.
The Warriors exploded back into the basketball scene with resounding back-to-back wins over Smith Valley High School at home Friday. The girls notched a commanding 51-26 win, and the boys cleaned up game two with a 67-34 win.
The wins were a nice welcome back present for athletic director Kathy Bluethman, who made her first appearance since returning from breast cancer treatment in Texas.
“Seeing her definitely pumped up the girls because normally after a two-week layoff you don’t come out and score 50 points,” girls coach Tom Esposito said. “But they got pretty fired up when she came out.”
Four players down and two weeks of vacation usually doesn’t lend itself to a positive blowout, but the lady Warriors proved otherwise Friday.
It was their defense that gave them the edge they needed
“Our defense really held it down. It was just well organized,” Esposito said. “That was the key because we got a lot of fast breaks off our defense.”
Jenny Shepack was the definition of fast breaks off defense. She capitalized on the Warriors’ defensive shutdown as she scratched out 10 points.
“This is her second game in double figures, and she achieved probably six of those points of her defensive steals,” Esposito said.
The Warriors’ defense built them a 51-point offense, which can only be summed up in two words – Harris sisters.
Amanda Harris and Emily Harris were all over the court. Amanda with her 32 points, while Emily was the wheels behind it all, anticipating her sister’s every move.
“She ran the offense the whole time,” Esposito said. “She did a great job of getting everyone organized. We definitely needed a general out there and she’s our girl.”
The girls improved to 6-4 overall, and will play Westwood at home today at 1 p.m.
Boys keep building
Just a month into preseason, and the boys are already humming like a finely-tuned machine. As cliche as it sounds, they utterly won their Smith Valley game as a team.
“Coach Phil made a huge point at the beginning of the season that no player is bigger than anyone on this team,” senior captain Austin Neil said. “Everyone is equal, even a player who doesn’t get much playing time.”
“We know that he’ll be needed at some point. Everyone is important,” co-captain Garrett Bronken said.
Everyone on the boys team played their part Friday to put together a 67-34 win.
Mark Waite shutdown Smith Valley on defense.
“He’s 5-foot-10, but he played back there like he’s 6-foot-3,” coach Phil Bryant said.
Not always a glamorous position, but Waite quietly plugged away at the backcourt and set his team up for the win.
“He works his butt off on the little things, the little things that matter, and without that we wouldn’t be where we are or winning as much as we are,” Neil said of Waite.
Rodney Aguirre-Rodgriguez played his best game yet. He matched Waite rebound for rebound and recorded 10 points.
“Part of what makes a good team is accepting your role, no matter what that role might be,” Bryant said. “We know that we’re not the most talented team around, but we’re trying to maximize the talents of our players and there’s the big difference. We don’t go on the court thinking we’re the best team here, but we go on thinking we can compete with anybody.”
Of course, Neil and Bronken played their role on the offense to a tee. The two hammered away at the hoop without getting discouraged as the Warriors got off to a slow start.
“We haven’t played in so long, and in the first quarter our shots just weren’t falling, so I expected it to be a little closer,” Bronken said. “But I was proud of us because we played pretty hard.”
It took exactly one quarter to warm up. The boys hit their stride in the second quarter, pushing out of reach by halftime, which they entered with a 32-14 lead.
“Sometimes we come out slow, but our coach always finds a way to get us back,” Austin Neil said.
“Once he got us to relax in the second quarter that’s when our shots started falling,” Bronken said. ” We were just too jittery in the first quarter.
Once the Warriors started playing their type of ball, the game was all over. The win, however was just a side note to some pretty good moments of basketball. Sure there were moments of sloppy too, but overall, Bryant was pleased.
“We never go out and say we have to win this game,” Bryant said. “What we really do is try to make what happens in the game, like a win, be the product of what we do. You can come in and play a great game and lose and then there’s no success. What we’re looking to do is get better every time we go out.”
Winning may be just the byproduct, but 8-1 overall isn’t a bad way to start a new chapter in the Whittell basketball book.
“There were people in the stands who used to go here, and they said this is the first time Whittell has looked like this in 10 years or more,” Bronken said.
And Bronken and the rest of the senior can’t think of a better way to end their high school careers.
“This is basically a dream come true to be able to end our senior year with this coach and this team and these players,” Neil said. “We’ve kind of shown people that we’re starting out as a winning team and we don’t want that to stop.”
The boys will face Bryant’s former school, Westwood, and the winning legacy he built there, today at Whittell at 2:30 p.m.
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