Going from a 23-point setback at home against rival Prophetstown to a recent 10-point loss at the Lady Prophets' gym has to be a source of encouragement for the Erie girls' basketball team.|
But as the second-seeded Cardinals (19-9) prepare to open postseason play Wednesday night at the Class 1A Polo Regional, they also know full well that the opponent in front of them -- the third-seeded host Lady Marcos -- isn't one to take lightly.
And as far as Erie coach Brian Howell is concerned, that should keep any talk of a third showdown between the Three Rivers Conference rivals (and co-op partners for most sports) down to a low roar.
"Coach (Scott) Miner and myself scouted Polo two weeks ago,'' said Howell, "and they play a lot of zone and like to slow the pace down, which could challenge us a bit. So, there's no regional final for us if we don't get there.''
Led by the senior nucleus of starters Paige Rus (8.5 points, four rebounds) and Desirae Lawson (seven points) and reserve sparkplug Kayla Waggoner (five points per game), the Cardinals have enjoyed a youth movement this winter, with the emergence of freshman forward Rachel Cobert (seven points, 10 rebounds) giving them a considerable boost.
"We're starting to jel now,'' said Howell. "The freshmen are finding their way, and getting a full year from (junior guard) Laykin Miner has been good. She gives us a second point guard on the floor along with Courtney (junior Courtney Cobert), so if a team puts their best defender on her, Laykin can handle the ball. It's a nice advantage a lot of teams don't have.''
By contrast, TRAC-9 co-champion Prophetstown (25-3), ranked sixth in the latest 1A poll, enters the postseason with a solid mix of veteran leadership and up-and-coming youngsters as it takes aim at its sixth straight regional title.
Senior stalwarts Cassie Reiley at point guard (11.5 points, 3.5 assists) and Riley Walters at forward (12 points, 4.5 rebounds,2.5 steals) provide the stabilzing forcefor longtime coach Don Robinson's club, which has been boosted by the play of sophomores Corrie Reiley and Clare Kramer, both of whom average between eight and nine points pergame.
"They got a lot of experience last year playing in the sectionals, and they've really helped us this season,'' said Robinson, whose top-seeded club reached the Sweet 16 last year and iscelebrating the 10th anniversary of itsone and only sectional championship.
Robinson also feels the key to his club's continued success this winter has been its ability to take care of the basketball. The Lady Prophets enter postseason play averaging 10 turnovers per game -- a stat that will be crucial if they are to undertake a lengthy playoff run.
"Having good ball handlers, that's been a big key,'' he said. "It's rare that we have over 10 turnovers in a game. Being undersized, that's been one of the secrets to how well we compete. And the thing is, our seniors have been great leaders. When it's close at crunch time, everybody looks to them to make the play.
"Cassie is a good threat not only in scoring, but in penetrating and finding the open person; Riley's been the recepient of a lot of those passes. They know the reality now is one-and-done. If we have one night where we're a little bit off, it's over. We just talk about one game at a time now.''