In any contest, it’s always pleasing to see a team gel and perform at, or close to, its peak.
On Monday evening, the Notre Dame Titans’ girls basketball program, as they had in their prior quartet of affairs to start the 2017-18 campaign, wasted no time setting an early tone against the Eastern Eagles’ girls basketball program as Notre Dame jumped out to a 22-0 advantage within the first five-and-a-half minutes of the contest, took a 31-4 lead at the end of the first quarter of play, and never looked back en route to a dominating 76-35 victory to move to 5-0 overall and 4-0 in SOC I action in a conference bout that was played at Notre Dame High School.
To win in that manner, it truly takes an unselfish and committed outlook from the get-go, no matter who the opponent is. And that is what made Monday’s victory so impressive to J.D. McKenzie.
“We got off to a great start,” McKenzie said. “It’s a bunch of unselfish girls who pass the ball up the floor. They see the open person, find them, and the open person finishes. Early on, our defense really came out, pressed, and set the tone. We smothered them a little bit, caused some turnovers, and got some easy shots. We shot well, too. When you do all of those things, it looks good.”
From the outset, Notre Dame’s full-court pressure proved to be unrelenting as the Lady Titans wasted no time jumping all over the youthful Lady Eagles. The backcourt pressure that guards Taylor Schmidt, Ava Hassel, and Molly Hoover provided on Monday evening allowed the trio to immediately kick Notre Dame’s offense into high gear as Schmidt and Hassel, by themselves, combined for 14 points and five steals in the opening frame as the Lady Titans sprinted out to a commanding 22-0 lead just five minutes and 22 seconds into the affair en route to a 31-4 first-quarter lead.
Schmidt and Hassel, who are only of sophomore and freshman eligibility, respectively, were tremendous in all aspects, with the former scoring 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting and adding five steals and three assists, and the latter obtaining a career-high 16 points while also putting together four steals and three assists of her own.
“Taylor started every game for us last year,” McKenzie said. “When you’ve got Taylor (Schmidt), Ava (Hassel), Molly (Hoover), Ali (Smith), and Olivia (Smith), you’ve got speed in spades at the guard positions. They’re able to pressure and smother the opposing team offensively, get deflections or steals, and make the pass up ahead to our bigs, but they also can finish or knock down the three pretty well. Taylor’s playing really well, and Ava is stepping right into her role. Over the last few games, they’ve been big leaders for us.”
While points were harder to come by in the second quarter, Katie Dettwiller made sure that any thoughts of a Eastern comeback would be deemed irrelevant with her play. The 6-4 center scored six of her 14 points in the second frame and, in addition to her 14 total tallies, added a ridiculous eight rebounds and six blocks in essentially a half of playing time — while shooting 88 percent from the floor — for the contest. Lexi Smith added eight of her 10 points in the opening pair of stanzas en route to pushing Notre Dame out to a 45-14 halftime lead, and added nine rebounds and four steals for the game, to complete the dominating low-post efforts.
“Katie and Lexi both did a really good job inside,” McKenzie said. “When you’ve got those two, sometimes your best offense is a missed shot, because you’ve got a good chance of getting the rebound, re-posting, and putting the ball back up and in. I can’t say enough about both of them. Katie does a great job of blocking shots, and her shooting percentage is off of the charts this year. Lexi’s probably the most physical player around. They’re both rebounding really well, especially considering that they’re playing limited minutes. They’ve only played in the fourth quarter once so far this year, so they’re rebounding really well in minimal time.”
Even with the game well in hand, the younger talents on the Lady Titans’ roster produced, as well. Olivia Smith, Claire Dettwiller, and Joyce Zheng showed off strong motors in the contest. Isabel Cassidy scored five quick points. And Clara Hash obtained six tallies of her own on two shot attempts to complete an efficient evening from the field. Those efforts, along with a five-assist, three-steal game from Hoover, made it a complete showing from top to bottom for the Lady Titans.
But as all good coaches do, McKenzie still noticed spots where the Lady Titans needed some improvement.
“I talked to the young ones after the game,” McKenzie said. “We’ve got to do a little bit better with our ball security. There were too many turnovers there. For the most part, however, they’re playing up and playing a lot of varsity games against a lot of varsity players, and that’s good for them. That’s experience that’s worth so much and is so valuable, and for them to get the amount of minutes that they have received this early in the year has been tremendous.”
Still, with a 5-0 record in hand, it’s safe to say McKenzie’s fairly happy. However, the veteran head coach knows that his unit can’t overlook anybody, and the same is true with Thursday’s affair, when Notre Dame travels to East to face Bob Johnson’s Lady Tartans.
“We’re playing pretty well,” McKenzie said. “We can play better than we’re playing, and that’s the exciting thing. I feel like we’ve been moving up the ladder in every game that we’ve played. We had a big test against Greenfield McClain on Saturday, and they were a very scrappy defensive team. It was a good test for us. We saw a lot of stuff that we haven’t seen so far. The bottom line is that we take things one game at a time. That’s what we’ve done over the last few years. We don’t look ahead. We’re more invested in what we’re doing and what we need to work on in order to be successful then what anybody else is doing.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT