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Lady Spartans drop third in a row

This week wasn't kind
Solon’s Saige Hauer brings the ball up court on a break leading Erin Kerkhoff, Gabby Marty and Abby Smith against the West Branch Bears. The Lady Spartans fell to the Bears, 49-35, at home, on Thursday, Dec. 7. (photo by Jeff Hess)

SOLON– Another week, another three games on the hardwood for the Solon girls’ basketball team, but this week wasn’t as kind as the last.
The Lady Spartans started the week on the road Tuesday, Dec. 5, falling behind early against Central Clinton, in DeWitt, being outscored the first two quarters, 11-8 and 12-3, but rallied in the third quarter outscoring the Sabers, 14-5, setting up a sprint to the finish that found Solon only able to match Central Clinton’s performance, 7-7. The Lady Spartans fell, 35-32, in a close, low-scoring affair.
Coach Lisa Bishop took solace in the second-half performance of her Spartans. “When our shot isn’t falling, or we can’t get into our offense, we need to find a way to defend and that’s exactly what we did,” she said. “We made a few adjustments at halftime in order to try and relieve some pressure for our ball handlers and revisited a few of the actions we wanted to see on offense and the girls executed that the second half.”
Brianna Smith led the charge scoring against the Sabers, scoring 12 points with two rebounds and two steals; Gabby Marty was limited to nine points with three assists and 13 rebounds; Saige Hauer added five points with one assist, five rebounds and two steals; Jenna LaDage scored three points with four assists, two rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot; Abby Smith contributed two points with an assist and two rebounds. Erin Kerkhoff had an off night scoring, but added an assist and a rebound while Haley Melchert recorded an assist and a rebound to aid Solon’s efforts. The Lady Spartans were plagued by 26 turnovers.
“Every game reveals things we need to work on but the problems we have been having the past couple weeks is handling the ball under duress. We need confident ball handlers who can get us in our offense without turning it over. It’s hard to work on those things with a full schedule of games, but we get back to work next week and that will be our primary focus!” Bishop said on the loss in DeWitt. “We need to work on our game awareness and situations. What is our mindset when we are up two with three minutes to go. We can’t make risky passes or relax a single possession.” 
Two days later, Thursday, Dec. 7, the Lady Spartans returned to their home court where they hosted a former rival of years past, the West Branch Bears, and the Koenig tandem of sisters Tatum and Sasha.
“I was very pleased with our game plan and defense. We held Tatum 10 points under her average and the team 20 points under average,” Coach Bishop commented on the Lady Spartans’ loss.
Solon did a fantastic job of limiting Tatum Koenig to a season low of just 17 points, breaking her string of consecutive 30-point games. Her seven steals and constant harassment negatively affected the Lady Spartans’ performance.
The Bears outscored the Lady Spartans 11-5 and 18-8 in the first two quarters setting a tempo appearing to be just a tick above Solon’s comfort level.
“We beat ourselves this night,” Bishop said. “We were putting so much pressure on ourselves and playing very tense. I need to do a better job modeling that for our girls and remind them to breathe.”
The Spartans stepped up their game, attempting to match pace with the Bears in the third quarter, but fell short 15-11.
The ladies charged hard, but West Branch had time on its side. Although Solon doubled the Bears, outscoring them 11-5 in the fourth, the Lady Spartans fell before the Bears, 49-35.
The game was the 100th career win for West Branch Bears’ Coach Jarod Tylee.
Sophomore Jenna LaDage led Solon in points against the Bears scoring 10 with two rebounds, a steal, and two blocks. Marty and Kerkhoff each put up six points apiece, Marty had an assist, a block, eight rebounds and a steal while Kerkhoff contributed an assist and two rebounds. Brianna Smith scored five points with three assists and two rebounds before fouling out of the game; Hauer added four points, an assist, four rebounds and a steal; and Melchert along with Abby Smith added two points apiece to Solon’s totals– Melchert with a rebound and a steal and Abby Smith with seven rebounds and a steal. Once again, 30 turnovers worked against the Lady Spartans.
“Our primary lineup right now has three natural post players and only two primary ballhandlers,” Bishop said. “I think our (turnovers) are (partly) due to choosing a new offense that most girls did not get a chance to work on in the off-season and possibly due to our out-of-season preparation. This will be our primary focus this month in practices, going back to the basics, working on footwork, passing, reading the D, etc.”
The following night, Friday, Dec. 8, the Lady Spartans played host to Western Dubuque, culminating in a 48-35 loss.
The first quarter saw a back-and-forth struggle with Epworth leading, 11-10. Solon nearly doubled the Bobcats’ scoring in the second quarter besting them, 14-8, to lead at the half, 24-19, and only accumulating eight turnovers. However, the Bobcats effectively shut down Solon in the third quarter outscoring the Lady Spartans, 17-2, for a third quarter score of 36-26. In the fourth quarter, Solon was bested,12-9, and the Bobcats dribbled out the clock. The Lady Spartans ended up with 18 turnovers for the game.
“They put on a full court press that made it difficult for our ball handlers to bring the ball up the floor,” Bishop said of the Lady Spartans’ third quarter.
Brianna Smith once again led the team, scoring nine points with four assists, four rebounds and two steals; LaDage scored eight points with three assists, one rebound, one steal and a block; Marty and Abby Smith added six points apiece, Marty added three assists and eight rebounds and Abby Smith added two rebounds; Kerkhoff put up four points with one assist; and Hauer added two points and three rebounds although she fell prey to fouls in the fourth quarter.
After early season successes, Marty has been limited in scoring from the paint.
“Teams are definitely keying in on Marty, (because) every time she catches the ball down there, she gets doubled or tripled so we also need to work on her making decisions under duress, as well,” Bishop said.
When asked about the imminent return of junior Taylor Ryan, Coach Bishop responded, “Taylor will provide not only needed depth, but a confident ball handler out on the floor. We will find out more on Tuesday. But from her effort and contribution in practice, she will help us a great deal.”
The Lady Spartans traveled to Anamosa on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and then return home on Friday, Dec. 15, to host Dyersville Beckman and finish out 2017 at Manchester to meet West Delaware on Tuesday, Dec. 19. All games are preceded by a junior varsity game starting at 6 p.m. with the varsity competitions scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. tip off.
“I feel very positive going into Christmas break,” Bishop said of the upcoming schedule. “Every night is tough in the WaMaC East but having an opportunity to practice things that are all very fixable, adding another player to our lineup will help factor in to our team having better ball control.”