After a fantastic 2022-23 campaign that saw the Wawasee girls basketball team earn a third place finish in the Northern Lakes Conference, the Lady Warriors picked up right where they left off on Friday night, earning a 36-24 win on the road at Concord to begin the 2023-24 NLC campaign with a well-earned victory.
“Conference games in general are always tough so it’s great for us to get that first one under our belt,” Wawasee head coach Derek Gilreath said after the game. “[Concord’s] a tough team and better than their record shows. I’m really proud of our effort tonight.”
Wawasee’s offensive strategy was clear from the game’s opening moments: find and take the best shot available, no matter what. The Lady Warriors were able to move the ball very crisply around the perimeter and in the paint and while the team’s first few shots did not go in, the process was there.
After allowing a Concord three by Dominique Stilley to begin the contest, Wawasee was able to get in front for the first time thanks to two quick buckets in transition. This was another trend the Lady Warriors would use to their advantage, keeping the tempo high and causing panic by the Lady Minutemen. It worked to perfection, as offensively, Wawasee was able to find open shooters by moving the bal around at lightning speed, and on defense, the quick switching and reaching hands of the visitors turned into a plethora of turnovers.
Three Wawasee players scored in the first quarter, as Mackenzie Hackleman, Kaydence Shepherd and Olivia Horn combined for the nine Lady Warrior points. Leading by one going into the second, Wawasee continued to apply pressure with Hackleman and Ava Couture hitting crucial threes. The outside shooting of the Lady Warriors caused Concord to have to pay more attention to the perimeter, leading to Horn continuing to dominate the paint. The junior led the team with eight points at halftime.
“We don’t run many sets , we try to get a lot of good ball movement going. We have a lot of similar types of players so they all know they have the green light if they’re open,” Gilreath said.
At times, it looked as if Wawasee was just moments away from formulating a run that would begin the process of putting the game out of reach, but Concord was able to do just enough to stick around. Stilley was the dominant force for the Lady Minutemen on offense, using all of her 6’0” frame to bully defenders down low while also showcasing her shooting from deep. While Wawasee was using a team effort to stay in front, Concord was relying on Stilley to keep them in the game.
The Lady Warriors were able to hold a six-point lead as the two sides headed into their respective locker rooms for halftime. The advantage hung around that area for the first few minutes, as Horn hit a tough bank shot to get into double figures. Midway through the third however, the lead finally extended to double digits after Couture’s second three pointer of the game. The defense of Hackleman was also crucial to this run, as the senior was a menace in the back court, picking up a series of steals to give her team some extra chances.
Shelby Emerick of Concord tries some verbal defense to stop Wawasee junior Mackenzie Hackleman from driving to the basket during Friday night's game at Concord. Photo by Gary Nieter
“Our girls played their hearts out, I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a team that plays as hard as this one.,” Gilreath said. “We’re not always in the right positions but they find ways to make plays”
After holding the home side to just five points in the quarter (three in the first seven and a half minutes), the Lady Warriors were able to more than double up their lead to 13 heading into the fourth. In the final minute of the quarter, Kylie Perkins became the sixth Wawasee player to get onto the scoreboard and the fourth to drain a three-pointer.
The Lady Warrior offense that had been so efficient to this point grew stagnant in the opening minutes of the fourth, going the first five minutes without getting any points. Luckily for the visitors, the defense didn’t seem to go anywhere, as Concord was only able to cut the lead to seven with three and a half minutes remaining.
The Lady Minutemen would get no closer. With just under three minutes left in the game, Shepherd hit a massive three to stop the run in its tracks while also extending her team’s lead back to double digits. The made basket was exactly the boost the Lady Warriors needed, as the rest of the game resembled what the first three quarters looked like.
Horn led the team in scoring with 12 points to go with three rebounds and three steals. Hackleman filled up the box score, scoring seven points to go with six rebounds and six steals. Couture scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds. Shepherd finished with six points.
The Lady Warriors (5-1, 1-0) return home for their next game on Saturday night against Triton at the Hardwood Teepee.
“I’m curious to see how we do. Obviously, with how hard we play, playing a back-to-back can be difficult. Triton’s got some good length with the Viers’s girls so that’ll be a tough matchup,” Gilreath said.