BRANDON — If the Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team is going to win in the early going, the Eagles will probably rely on the formula they used to knock off host Otter Valley on Thursday, 49-41, in both teams’ opener.
The Eagles’ four veterans all contributed, notably junior point guard Jen Loyer, who tossed in 28 points and added nine steals, six assists and five rebounds.
Meanwhile, senior forward Shanna Gebo keyed the Eagles’ 40-29 dominance on the boards with 18 rebounds, sophomore center Lydia Stearns chipped in with eight points and four rebounds, and senior guard Sophie Owen-Jankowski scrapped on defense and pulled down five boards.
And the team’s younger players played their roles in the full-court press that forced 20 Otter turnovers and in the halfcourt zone that rarely allowed OV good looks at the basket. Sophomore guard Amber Fay also debuted with nine points.
Loyer said the game showed the Eagles can compete this year even after graduating six seniors.
“I think it was a great game. We used team effort,” she said. “We’re a young team and all, but I think we can make some ruckus and do well.”
Coach Connie LaRose said the Eagles still have plenty of work to do, pointing to, for example, the Eagles’ 28 turnovers. But she believes they have talent and intangibles.
“We’ve got a lot of fire, a lot of heart. Our decision-making leaves a lot to be desired, but there were a lot of young kids out there tonight that had that deer-in-the-headlights look,” she said. “They’ll move beyond that eventually, and when they do, we’ll begin to see better and better things.”
Meanwhile, OV coach Ray Counter was at least happy the Otters showed improvement since a recent scrimmage against the Eagles he said did not go well. Counter also thought if a couple of shots had dropped for the Otters in the fourth quarter, when they held their own on the boards and cut what had been a 12-point lead down to eight, the outcome could have been different.
“We started to go on a little run. And we just couldn’t make that basket,” he said. “It was just a matter of a couple of minutes where I felt the game could change.”
The Eagles took an early 8-4 lead on a free throw by Sara Sayles, two Loyer free throws after an offensive rebound, a Loyer trey, and a move inside by Stearns.
In the first 4:24, OV managed only a fast-break hoop by Emily Waldrip (9 points, 4 steals) and a putback by Amanda Sanderson (7 rebounds, 3 assists).
But the Otters also played good defense and took the lead at 9-8. Michelle Lefebvre (9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals) hit two free throws, and Kristy Pinkham — who led OV with 10 points, added four steals and three assists, and was the team’s most effective ballhandler — sank a trey.
Gebo responded with a buzzer-beating lay-up after a wild scramble for the ball, and it was 10-9, Eagles, after one. In the second period Fay came off the bench for two quick hoops, and Loyer scored the Eagles’ other nine points as Mount Abe led at the break, 23-19. Five Otters scored in the period as they stayed close.
It was 27-24, Eagles, when Lefebvre scored inside at 6:07 of the third period. The Eagles then closed the quarter by outscoring the Otters, 9-3 to lead, 36-27. Loyer sank five of six free throws and fed Fay for a hoop, and Stearns hit inside. Jessica Greeno’s jumper in the lane was the only basket for OV in the final six minutes. In that pivotal period the Eagles outrebounded OV by 12-6.
OV hit the boards harder in the final period and attacked the basket more in transition, but still fell behind by 12, 43-31, with 3:21 left in the game.
Then Sanderson hit one free throw, and Pinkham got to the line and hit a pair after the Otters grabbed four straight offensive boards, and it was 43-34. After three quick points from Fay, Lefebvre converted on a nice cut to the hoop, and Pinkham stole the ball and went in for two more, and it was 46-38. OV then stole the ball again, but missed an open layup at the two-minute mark that would have made it a six-point game.
Soon afterward, Gebo pulled down a miss on one OV possession and stole the ball on the next. Loyer then hit two free throws and fed Kim Kayhart for two points on an inbounds play to salt the game away.
Counter said rebounding would be a point of emphasis in upcoming practices for his veteran team, which he believes has potential.
“I’m looking at seven or eight teams that could be in the mix at the end. And we could be one of them. I see that in them,” he said.
LaRose also expects to see improvement from her team as the season progresses.
“It’s a rebuilding year. We’re not making any pretense it isn’t,” she said. “But I still think that come around February time we’ll be better.”