Challenge accepted

It wasn’t by accident that Calvert’s schedule was loaded with numerous challenges. Early season games against Clyde and Bellevue, while not turning out the way Seneca fans had hoped, have helped the team rise to the challenges faced in the tail-end of the season.

Thursday, Calvert knocked off state-ranked New Riegel. Two days later, Calvert came back and beat a 15-win Mansfield St. Peter’s team, 67-45.

“Clyde and Bellevue have great players and … it helped us prepare for these big games and it worked out because we beat New Riegel. That’s always a tough game for us,” Calvert’s Nicole Bickley said. “I think we’re doing pretty good.”

“I think all these tough games we played have prepared us for the tournament,” Kate Brickner added. “We played Clyde and Bellevue who are really good teams, state-ranked. It helped us play up to some bigger competition than we’re used to and that’s going to help us a lot.

“After playing like we did against New Riegel and then this game, it shows us that we can play with big, good teams and that we can take care of business.”

Calvert coach Tim Ritzler said playing tougher, upper division teams was a learning experience that’s paying off for his team.

“I think it’s really helped us. We may not have been as competitive as we wanted to be against teams like Clyde and Bellevue, but you learn things from those games,” he said after his team improved to 15-6. “You learn watching Clyde move the ball on offense and the way Bellevue gets after defensively. You can learn things from good teams like that, learn what they do so well and what you can to counteract it and I really think it’s prepared us for games against tougher teams.”

The was close through most of the first quarter until Calvert gained some separation late in the period. A Taylor Ritzler steal turned into a Marisa Horn basket and a 19-14 Seneca lead at the first stop.

St. Peter’s (15-5) was playing its fourth straight game without injured post player Della Hall, who averages nearly a double-double a game.

Her absence left Calvert with a size advantage inside that it used to the fullest as the lead expanded in the second quarter.

“I know they lost one of their post players to injury this year so we thought that inside was something we’d have an advantage in,” Ritzler said. “All our post players, Lindsay (Bickley), Samantha (Beckley), Margaret (Bowers), Alanna (Widman), Nicole (Bickley), all did a great job coming in and just being aggressive on the boards, staying fundamental, boxing out and getting good position and that helps.”

Calvert out-rebounded the Spartans 44-22, including a 16-5 second quarter edge when the game really started to swing the Senecas’ way.

“We knew coming in they are a very talented rebounding team,” St. Peter’s coach Bill Tomsich said. “They box out strong. We didn’t have any energy three, four minutes into the first quarter. We didn’t box out. You can’t give a team like this, second, third and fourth opportunities. I don’t care who you are.”

Never was the rebounding edge more effective than on one trip down the floor in the second quarter, where Calvert collected four offensive rebounds before Nicole Bickley put the ball in the hoop. That was the first time Calvert’s lead hit double-digits and it never dropped below the rest of the day.

Bickley scored all seven of her points during the second quarter. Once the Spartan defense adjusted to try to stop her inside, the rest of the floor opened up for the Senecas.

“Once we go inside, we can kick it out and it opens up our 3s,” Bickley said. “So it really helped us step up the game everywhere.”

Brickner, who poured in a game-high 24 points, said the play inside of the post players enabled her and the other guards to run the floor and get a lot of baskets in transition.

“I think the rebounding helped a lot. Our size advantage was awesome,” she said. “Just how we ran the floor, we were hitting shots, getting the open person and that helped a lot.”

Another big advantage, according to Ritzler, was his team’s depth. Calvert’s bench outscored St. Peter’s 14-0.

“I think really just offensively we got good ball movement,” he said. “I thought Nicole inside had some big baskets early in the game that really got us going and then once they started helping down on her it really opened up things up on the outside.

“I think the big thing was really just getting out in transition. They didn’t have a real deep bench. Once our bench came in we were able to continue to run and push the ball and I think that wore them out a little bit.”

Olivia Smith added 12 points for Calvert and shared the team-high with Bickley with nine rebounds. St. Peter’s was led by Tiza Jones’ 19 points and Randa Payne’s 16.