Neuqua Valley swarms Geneva
Neuqua Valley is probably the last opponent a team wants to see right after losing its point guard.
Geneva did Friday, and it wasn't pretty.
With Michaela Loebel joining fellow starter Sami Pawlak on the bench, the No. 4 Vikings were overwhelmed by No. 5 Neuqua Valley 45-22 in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover game in Geneva.
Neuqua (6-0) and its pressure defense broke the game open with a 17-0 first-half run, held Geneva (3-2) scoreless in the second quarter until the final second and harassed the Vikings into 22 first-half turnovers.
"They had their guard down and I think our pressure was definitely key in this game," said Neuqua junior Najee Smith, who had 9 steals to go with her 6 points. "Our coach always says play big, get your arms out. Even if you can't get steals, get deflections."
Loebel suffered a non-contact knee injury in the second quarter of Wednesday night's loss to Crete-Monee. An MRI diagnosed a season-ending torn ACL. Without Loebel the Vikings looked lost against Neuqua's constant pressure.
"They would have been a tough game with or without her," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "It was just an emotional game. We played awful on Wednesday. You turn around and play a good team like Neuqua, your confidence is already low and you know one of your best players is done for the season, it's just emotional."
Unfortunately, ACL injuries are nothing new to a somewhat snake-bitten Geneva program. Geneva junior Sidney Santos missed her entire freshman and sophomore seasons with ACL tears, and older sister Ashley Santos suffered a season-ending ACL injury last December.
"These kids are capable of playing through injuries — we did it last year," Meadows said. "You just gotta have kids step up. All these injuries we've had, it's terrible. The kids are ready to move on, but each one's role will change."
For its part, Neuqua itself is playing short-handed. Starting junior Niki Lazar missed Friday's game with an ankle injury, and freshman guard Kai Moon has missed the last week with a concussion.
The Wildcats haven't missed a beat.
Neuqua rolled through the York Tournament with an average margin of victory of 17 points and kept it going Friday. Freshman guard Myia Starks, who scored 8 points, ignited the 17-0 run with an off-balance circus shot in the lane over two defenders that went for a three-point play.
Najee and Malia Smith later added a pair of runners in the lane and a 3-pointer by Lauren Deveikis made it 25-7.
Allison Hedrick scored 10 points, Deveikis 7 and Malia Smith had 6 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. When Neuqua wasn't forcing turnovers, it was deflecting passes and preventing Geneva to run any type of offense.
"We've been playing really well on defense," Neuqua coach Mike Williams said, "causing some havoc, getting our hands on a lot of balls. I think we're putting some things in people's minds even when we're not pressuring."
Even the short turnaround after a Wednesday night game at York and a Thursday holiday didn't faze Neuqua.
"Our coach just said don't eat too much turkey," Najee Smith said. "We had practice this morning and tried to run some of it off. I think we were all mentally here today."
Kelly Gordon had 6 points and 8 rebounds and Santos 5 points and 4 rebounds for Geneva.
"I was upset with the first half but not the second," Meadows said. "The last thing I want them to do is quit, and they never quit. They played hard and their heart is going to have to carry them through the rest of the season."
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