Stevenson’s stifling ‘D’ makes statement
Stevenson's Taylor Buford (left) defends as Vernon Hills' Meri Bennett-Swanson attempts a shot Dec. 8. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 1:17AM
VERNON HILLS — In the visiting locker room minutes before Stevenson took the court to face undefeated Vernon Hills Tuesday, Patriots coach Tom Dineen wrote the defensive assignments on the blackboard.
One outlined how sophomore Sophia Way would front Vernon Hills’ darting junior shooting guard Sydney Smith. The other said senior Alex Elzinga would be in charge of the Cougars’ 6- foot-2 senior center Meri Bennett-Swanson while also helping out on Lauren Webb, Vernon Hills’ 6-0 junior point guard/power forward.
Running down the hallway toward the field house just before tip-off, Way and Elzinga were both nervous and excited about the challenge.
“She’s a very versatile player. We knew what she was capable of. Don’t let her get hot,” Way, 5- 8, said of Smith, 5-10.
Added Elzinga, who is 6 feet tall, “They (Webb and Bennett-Swanson) are great posts. We wanted to make sure they are not getting lobs over us.”
Stevenson’s plan began working right away, with several deflected passes leading to baskets for the Patriots. After the first quarter, they had allowed just 10 points and were leading by three.
Stevenson was up 21-19 at the half thanks largely to its defensive strategy, which bolstered its 10-of-31 shooting from the field.
“We missed some shots in the first half, but I thought we’d be OK,” Dineen said. “They made some halftime adjustments and it took us a few chess moves to counter.”
Vernon Hills ran more high-low plays to get the ball to Webb and Smith in the third quarter, but Stevenson continued to clamp down. The game was tied at 30 with just a few minutes left in the third quarter; it took almost seven minutes for the Cougars to score their next point, a free throw by Smith to trim the Patriots’ lead to 40-31 with 4:25 left in the game.
Stevenson held on to win 50-43, ending Vernon Hills’ perfect season and earning a statement victory.
“No one expected us to win except us. We expected this to be our game right off the bat,” Way said.
The victory over Vernon Hills could have deeper meaning in Stevenson’s long-term season outlook.
“I definitely think this will help push us to have that confidence boost,” Way said. “We’re looking to continue it through January and into the playoffs.”
The connections between players at both schools, which are only three miles apart, made the game more than just a matchup between two skilled squads.
Stevenson senior guard Kari Moffat was at one point in the same AAU program as Smith and Webb. Way has played against Smith and Webb in summer travel leagues.
And Elzinga and Bennett-Swanson currently play in the same AAU program, the Midwest Elite.
“Sometimes we haven’t been on the same team but we’ve been played against each other,” Elzinga said. “We always go at it in practice.”
Now the Stevenson players can boast school bragging rights.