AKRON — It was supposed to be a “Here we are” moment for the Whitko girls basketball team, but instead it was a “We never left” game for Tippecanoe Valley. The Lady Vikings welcomed in their rival Saturday night and used the opportunity to remind the rest of the Three Rivers Conference that the road to a conference title still runs through Akron with a 56-32 victory.
“We accomplished quite a bit last year and we are playing great this season” said Valley head coach Chris Kindig. “What else do we have to prove?”
The Lady Vikes head coach was perturbed. His team won the TRC last season, which was just a footnote to a fantastic season that ended in the state finals. But still his team finds itself battling a lot of naysayers and doubters in the media, conference and surrounding communities despite entering Saturday’s contest with a 10-1 record and a No. 7 ranking in the Class 3-A poll determined by coaches statewide.
Valley did not need to prove anything to itself. The players, coaches and staff knew what the Lady Vikings were capable of, but still there remained a faction of people that needed to be reminded. Valley had no problem refreshing those people’s memories.
The home team came out physical, intense and determined leading the way to a 10-2 advantage in less than three minutes. The quick start prompted a Whitko timeout, but not even that could deter the strong will of the Vikings. Valley would go on another 9-0 run after the timeout to open up a 19-2 lead. Whitko found itself down 24-4 after just one quarter.
This first quarter performance was the story of the game for both teams. It was a deficit that the Wildcats, who entered the night ranked No. 5 in Class 2-A, were never able to come back from and a lead that Valley was never going to let slip away.
Helping to get that hot start for Valley was Addy Miller. The sophomore had the first eight points for her team and 11 of the first 13, hitting a trio of threes in the process. The performance was surprising to everyone but the two head coaches.
“Yeah, we were concerned about her (Miller) coming in, we just didn’t get to her,” said a disgruntled Whitko head coach Brandon Bradley. “We identified that early on in our scouting report. You can even see it on our scouting report. But, for whatever reason, they weren’t prepared enough and they didn’t guard the right people the right way. I take all the blame for that.”
“I said all week that I didn’t think this game would come down to Anne (Secrest) or Aly Reiff, I thought it would be about the other players on each team,” Kindig stated. “I look at the stat sheet and see Hannah Dunn with 15 points and Addy Miller with 13. She came out in that first quarter and played very well.
“Addy is capable of doing that. Some people might be surprised by that. I’m honestly surprised when she misses. There are times at practice where her and Meredith (Brouyette) just fill the basket up. Shooting the ball like that will be the difference for us down the stretch.”
Valley led 36-12 at the half and continued to pour it on, expanding its lead to 48-21 through the third quarter.
While Dunn (15 points), Miller (13) and, of course, Secrest (15) all had great nights offensively, it was one player’s defensive effort that truly stood out.
Brynda Krueger was a defensive stalwart for Valley as she had the job of trying to contain on of the area’s top scorers in Aly Reiff. Krueger did her job as Reiff scored just six points on the night, all six of which came in the fourth quarter. Taking Reiff out of the game was the biggest challenge Valley faced and Krueger made it look like it was done with ease for most of the game.
Reiff, the junior standout for the Wildcats, entered play Saturday night averaging 21 points-per-game.
“She’s the whole package for us right now,” Kindig remarked. “She’s a stat stuffer. That’s been a key for us these past six or seven games as this team has been coming together. We get contributions from everybody but Brynda has played really well during this stretch.”
Whitko was led offensively by Jen Reiff’s eight points. Brianna Cumberland added seven for the Wildcats.
Saturday night is a game that Whitko will have to leave in the past and that’s exactly what Bradley is planning on doing.
“We’ve got at least 12 games left,” Bradley stated. “Monday we start preparing for Pendleton. It’s that simple. We’ve got five days to prepare for Pendleton and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Whitko (10-2, 3-1) will play Pendleton Heights in the first game of the Greenfield-Central Tournament on Dec. 29. The tournament runs through Dec. 30.
Valley (11-1, 4-0) will play Lakeland in the second game of the West Noble Tournament on Jan. 2.
Both teams still have plenty to play for in the TRC, including games versus Rochester. The Zebras are currently ranked No. 1 in Class 2-A as they sport an 11-0 mark, which includes a 3-0 start in league play. Valley plays at Rochester on Jan. 16, while Whitko hosts the Zebras on Jan. 9.
Valley won the JV game 45-42. Asia O’Connor led the Lady Vikes with 11 points. Suzanne Sickafoose led Whitko with 17.