Amelia Saunders and Josey Klingenberg chat with us post-game.
Manchester Valley was aiming for a fresh start.
After losing to county foe Westminster twice in the regular season, the Mavericks felt they needed to change their mindset. They were well aware of a potential rematch with the Owls in the playoffs, but did not let that hinder their focus level to get to that point.
The Mavs used an 11-0 run in the first half to get ahead, and stay ahead, in Thursday’s Class 3A West Section 1 final, and beat the county champions 49-37 to set up a rematch against Frederick in the regional final.
The Mavericks (21-3) will host the Cadets at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“We knew they were going to be physical, we knew they were going to be tough and knew they were going to bring the best game they played,” sophomore Amelia Saunders said. “We had to step up and know that we want this and it’s our time to step up and play well.”
Senior point guard Mackenzie DeWees led Man Valley with a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds), and added six steals. Saunders scored 15 points, and Josey Klingenberg notched six steals and assists apiece.
Man Valley used its first-half surge to build a 21-6 lead over the Owls. Saunders scored nine points to contribute during that run — all were 3-pointers. Owls senior Sydney Popielski ended the Mavs’ scoring burst on a three-point play with 5 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Popielski added two more points for the Owls (20-3) to close out the half, but her team trailed 23-11.
DeWees opened the second half with a steal at half court and dribbled the ball down for a layup. She grabbed another steal and handed the ball off to Klingenberg, who responded with another basket.
The Mavs scored five straight before Popielski answered with a 3 to bring the Owls within 28-14.
The Owls never led, but chipped at a 29-17 third-quarter deficit to keep the Man Valley defense on its toes in the final frame. Sophia Diehl and Popielski combined for six straight points in the quarter, and a layup from Zoe Costley cut the lead to 39-30 with less than four minutes to go.
The Mavs went 8-for-16 from the free throw line in the frame and it was enough to hold off the Owls in the end.
“There was more movement,” Owls coach Dave Urban said, in reference to the second half. “In the first half, they got into a stagnated offensive set and they were trying to force things inside versus move the ball and get it to the point where they could attack.”
Popielski led the Owls with 17 points. Diehl and Costley each had seven rebounds and three steals.
“I’m very proud,” Urban said. “Starting out the year, if you would have told us we would be 20-3 I would have been like, ‘Yeah, right.’ I think it was a step forward every time they came out on the court so the progression was very noticeable. They started to notice and had to get to a point where they believed. I think you saw at the end of the game if we had finally started to have been allowed to get into a flow, then you saw how dynamic they can be. I don’t feel we had the opportunity to get into a flow.”
Manchester Valley coach Heather DeWees said her team’s improvement on the court came from watching film, a lot of film.
“We’ve watched Westminster so many times,” DeWees said. “We have to look at breaking down our weaknesses, so we watch that film as a reminder of, ‘How have we fixed this?’ We even watch them play other teams just because, for us, we have been waiting to play them the whole season. I think our defense was so much better tonight than it was when we played them before. I have numerous new kids on the team who didn't play last year who have all gotten better and I think that speaks volumes for how hard they work.
“It’s across the board, it’s not one kid. Every kid has gotten better since Day 1 and I take a lot of pride in coaching all my kids. Watching film is critical to analysis of our weaknesses as well as our individual weaknesses and that played a role.”
Westminster (37): Sarah O’Donnell 2, Nicole Roberts 4, Sydney Popielski 17, Sophia Diehl 8, Zoe Costley 4, Lauren Saltz 2.
Manchester Valley (49): Josey Klingenberg 6, Ellie Boswell 2, Sydney Resau 1, Anne Saunders 3, Mackenzie DeWees 18, Amelia Saunders 15, Kassidy Johnson 3.