FULL REPORT: FAM GIRLS HOLD OFF GAYVILLE-VOLIN
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Foul trouble early, poor defensive rebounding in the first half and too many missed shots throughout the game could have doomed the Freeman Academy/Marion girls in the first round of the Region 4B Tournament in Marion Monday night, Feb. 20.
But the eighth-seeded Bearcats did just enough to fend off ninth-seeded Gayville-Volin and escape with a 31-28 win.
And what do they get for it?
A date with defending Class B champion and No. 1-ranked Viborg-Hurley in the second round of the region tournament Tuesday night. The FAM girls were scheduled to take a 7-14 record into the game against the 17-3 Cougars that began at 4 p.m. in Hurley.
Gayville-Volin finished its season with a 5-16 record.
“We’re playing another game,” FAM head coach Nathan Epp said after his team’s Monday night win against the Raiders. “You always have a chance to win when you’re playing; it’s better than sitting at home. I think everybody expects us to lose, so we’ll just go out and have fun.”
The GV game
“Definitely a rollercoaster.”
That’s how point guard Alivea Weber described Monday night’s battle with the Raiders, and the Marion senior isn’t wrong. While the Bearcats led nearly the entire game — Gayville-Volin had only one lead at 13-12 late in the first half — the contest wasn’t in hand until a last-second 3-point attempt by Raider freshman Taylor Hoxeng that would have tied the game missed the mark.
“My favorite saying has always been, an ugly win is better than a pretty loss, and this was the definition of that,” said Epp, who was forced to sit three of his most proven players — senior Jada Koerner and Alivea Weber and freshman Anna Olson — for much of the first half after all three quickly picked up two fouls. “Because of foul trouble we had a lot of kids play that don’t normally play a lot, and they did a really nice job of running offense.”
Epp said he told Koerner, Weber and Olson that if the Bearcats fell behind in that first half they would likely go back in, “but the younger ones who played in those minutes did a nice job on defense holding them down and they ran the offense well.
“We had a lot of great looks; we just have to do a better job finishing,” the coach continued. “All season long that’s something we’ve really struggled with, and that’s why the game was as close as it was.”
But the FAM girls were aided by a nice cushion early and a pair of critical three-pointers later in the game that ultimately made the difference.
The early advantage came on a pair of field goals down low from freshman forward Estelle Waltner and a three-pointer from junior guard Alexa Gortmaker that made it 7-0, and those three-pointers came from senior Leah Goodwin and Waltner — who led the team with eight points and 12 rebounds — that gave the Bearcats their biggest lead of the game at 28-17 with 6:08 to play in the game.
“Those came at a really, really good time,” said Epp.
But the Raiders hung around thanks to the second three-pointer of the night from seventh grader Paisley Dimmer and another from Hoxeng that trimmed the lead to 28-23.
Then, Weber fouled out with 1:30 to go, and another three-pointer from Hoxeng with 54 seconds on the clock made it a 28-26 game. And when Raiders’ eighth grader Mala Achen made one of two from the line, Gayville-Volin was within one at 29-28 with 23 seconds left.
“I was a little worried I was going to not be playing basketball again,” said Weber, who showed emotion walking off the court after committing her fifth foul. “I had a lot of faith they would pull through and get the win for us, but I was nervous for sure.”
Weber no doubt felt better on the Bearcats’ possession following Achen’s free throw, when the Bearcats were able to break the full court pressure and capitalize on a long assist from Waltner to Olson, who bounced the layup in to give FAM a 31-28 advantage. The Raiders turned the ball over on the ensuing possession but stole the ball back with seconds remaining, leading to Hoxeng’s last-ditch effort to tie the game that missed.
Game, set and match for the Bearcats.
“I think we just wanted it,” said Koerner. “It might not have seemed like it, but a couple things went our way. There were a couple scary moments; there was a moment where I definitely thought I gave the game away after a couple of turnovers, but once Anna made that shot, the ball was back in our court.”
While the Bearcats made the shots when they had to, their defensive effort was really the star of the show. That’s what allowed the FAM girls to hold a 12-5 lead after one quarter, 14-13 edge at the half, 23-17 advantage after three quarters and 31-28 win at the end.
“We’ve talk all season about pressuring the ball — pressuring the guards — but tonight our main goal was the double down on the post,” said Weber. “Nathan is a defensive kind of coach, so knowing that he’s got our back on defense has been nice.”
“They like to play defense — it’s fun to see,” said Epp. “They did a really nice job of closing out on the shooters. We got a little tentative late, but overall it was just a solid effort.”
That solid effort has been evident throughout the season, even though the Bearcats didn’t win as many games as they may have wanted.
“They’ve been a joy to be with,” he said. “We’re a little disappointed we didn’t pick up a few more wins, but the effort has always been there. I really hope that the younger ones will get a little tougher mentality so we’re ready for these types of moments.”
He also credits his seniors — Koerner, Weber and Goodwin — for their work and perseverance through some tough seasons.
“They’re great kids,” said Epp. “It’s been a tough road for them; I told somebody the other day that in the past four years I’ve been coaching, I’ve had a total of four seniors, and that counts these three. So they had to grow up early and sooner than they should have had to, so they’ve had a lot of pressure on them. But they work hard every day and they’ll really be missed.”
“We’ve been through so much together and it’s been a great experience,” said Weber. “I’ve definitely gotten to know everybody like they’re my family.”
“We were kind of the first team to be part of the co-op — the first varsity team to have played together since we were in middle school,” said Koerner. “I know in those early years it was a struggle, but we’ve really grown together as a team, especially this year.”