Midseason turnaround puts Lady Indians in Henlopen South contention
The NFL’s New York Giants shocked the nation as a mediocre midseason was topped with a bevy of uplifting performances that inevitably led them to the Super Bowl title earlier this month. Few placed the 6-6 Giants in playoff contention, let alone on a post-season tear to the Lombardi trophy, but everyone knows how that ended. In similar fashion, the Indian River varsity girls’ basketball team began their season with a slow start, but has since found their stride on their way to what may unfold into a strong postseason surge.
As 2011 drew to a close, the Lady Indians were staring at a 3-4 record, their worst start in five years. But the new year brought with it a revitalized team, which has gone 10-1 in 2012, including a 7-0 winning streak, most recently capped with a crucial divisional win over Woodbridge this Tuesday, Feb. 7.
The visiting Blue Raiders of Woodbridge kept in stride for the first quarter of Tuesday’s game, matching the Indians, shot for shot, through the first half. The Lady Indians held a slight edge at halftime, with a 27-22 lead, but head coach John Frye wanted to see more.
“There were some questionable fouls in that first half that threw us off our game,” he said, “and fortunately, we had others really stepping up in that second quarter. Kitty Cole, Francesca [Lanuza] and Alex [Myers] really did their part to keep things close, making the baskets we needed until we found our groove again.”
The halftime talk did its job, as the Lady Indians returned to the court, capitalizing on layup opportunities, making steals and crisp passes, and posting a solid defense. Indian River’s hustle could not be matched by Woodbridge, as they outscored the Blue Raiders 20-2 in the third quarter alone.
“That’s pretty amazing to see, especially at the varsity level,” admitted Frye. “It’s quite a feat for our girls, but our team did what they knew they needed to do. We got five big points right at the end of the first half, and we wanted to come right back out with that intensity.”
Indian River continued their romp in the final quarter, scoring 16 more points and holding Woodbridge to only six points for the quarter.
Keeonya Shelton led the Lady Indians with 18 points as the final buzzer sounded. Her sister, Keiosha, followed up with 13 points of her own, including a score from outside the three-point arc. Shanekqua Holden contributed nine points in the win, improving the Indians to 13-5 on the season, 10-2 in the Henlopen South.
“The wins we’re getting are huge for us,” said Frye. “Back in December, this season could have gone either way for us. The girls could have laid down, but they didn’t. They’ve stuck with it, and they play with respect, and they believe in each other. I’m so proud of these girls.”
The victory over Woodbridge came a week after the Lady Indians secured a marginal victory over Sussex Central, 52-49, and days after a follow-up win against the Polytech Panthers, who had bested IR by three points earlier this year.
As is the case in many sports, Frye stands by the philosophy that defense is the best offense.
“Our girls are moving out there on the floor,” he said, “and getting back on defense when they need. The goal of a strong defense is to make it look like there are eight, nine or 10 players out there on defense, instead of five. We didn’t give up their second shots, and we did a great job rebounding.”
But even with an impressive turnaround record and two games left on the regular season schedule, the year is far from over. The Lady Indians will host Dover on Tuesday, Feb. 14, for their final home game of the schedule and then head to Seaford on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Both teams snagged wins over IR earlier this year, and as Seaford keeps in stride, matching Indian River’s record game for game, the final matchup of the year will undoubtedly hold division contention.
“Dover and Seaford are going to be two really big games for us,” Frye said. “These are two of the top five teams in the state. They are going to try to speed up the pace of the game, and that’s alright. We have to play at our potential. We’ve got to make good decisions and limit turnovers. If we’re going to win out, we’ve got to be the ones that make our opponents work for it.”
While athletes such as the Sheltons, point guard Destiny Blake and center Chanel Handy are the common headliners in terms of stats each game, Frye noted that it has been a team effort on everyone’s parts that has put the Lady Indians in the commanding position that they find themselves now.
“Everyone is contributing,” said Frye. “We have so much talent and depth on the bench to support our starters. Shanekqua [Holden] has really stepped up, putting up nine to 10 points a game. Keeonya has been consistent all year, and Keiosha has improved her ball handling, shooting and off-the-ball movement so much.
“Destiny may get frustrated with her scoring sometimes, but she sees the court like no one else. Her passes are unbelievable. And to have players like Alex [Myers], Kitty Cole, Francesca [Lanuza] and Brianna [Marshall] stepping up when we find ourselves in foul trouble, and playing great defense, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Over the past three seasons, under the supervision of Frye, Indian River has progressed into the postseason each year, and they’re looking to make it a fourth straight year. Each year so far, though, the opening two rounds of the state tournament have proven to be too much for them. But with a little luck, and some perseverance, this could be the year that the Lady Indians shock the onlookers and hoist their own version of the Lombardi trophy.