Defending state champs too much for Calvert

By all indications, this year’s version of the Anna Rockets isn’t the same as the one which won the Division III state title last March.

Only two of the 11 girls who were on the Value City Arena floor in the state final are back this year, as this year’s team is comprised mostly of underclassmen.

According to coach Dave McFeely, with a young team, there are good days and bad days. Saturday at Calvert, it was a good day.

After a quick start established a lead, Anna pulled away from Calvert with a 17-6 third quarter run en route to a 51-32 victory.

“We’re growing,” McFeely said. “Sometimes when we go out on the floor, we play like sophomores and freshman. Sometimes we play like today. They’re growing up.”

One of the two returnees for Anna is junior Cayla Bensman, who led the Rockets with 21 points in last year’s state final. Saturday, she led the way with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

“We knew coming in she was their best player,” Calvert coach Tim Ritzler said. “She can shoot the ball, she can pass the ball, she can handle the ball, she’s a smart player. She’s just one of those players that’s just tough to defend. I thought at times we did a nice job on her, made her work for it. Still, she’s just a quality player that made plays.”

Bensman got the Rockets going with 10 first-quarter points. Kate Brickner helped Calvert keep pace early by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers, but Anna still led 19-12 at the first stop. From there, Anna’s defense clamped down. The Senecas hit on just 13 of 41 shots (31.7 percent) and committed 27 turnovers.

“[Anna was] very quick defensively,” Ritzler said. “It seems like, for the most part, they play four, five guards at a time. So we thought we had some advantages inside. But the way they move and how they got in the passing lanes, we had a tough time just getting the ball into the post, especially early in the game.”

Anna was effective in its pressure defense, and even when Calvert was able to get into a half-court set, the Rockets prevented many open looks.

“That’s our defensive plan. Our basic defense is a diamond press, but with their four-up, we went just straight man. We didn’t try to run and jump on them or anything like that,” McFeely said. “I have a lot of respect for their speed and their big girl scared the heck out of me.”

Brickner led Calvert with 10 points and Nicole Bickley pulled down eight rebounds.

Ritzler said he was pleased with his team’s defense against the Rockets.

“I thought our defense, effort-wise, was a little bit better tonight,” he said. “They’re a very good team and they got a couple girls that can really shoot the ball and score. We held them to about 50 points, which isn’t bad for us defensively. But we, unfortunately, we just didn’t put the ball in the basket offensively. Had a few too many turnovers, a few too many bad passes that kind of hurt us. Then when we did get good looks we just didn’t make them tonight.”

After winning its first eight games, Calvert dropped its second in a row, each to teams which made it to Columbus last year.

Anna (6-5) may not be the same team that topped the state last season, but McFeely has his team playing a challenging schedule and is impressed with the growth from the young unit.

I scouted (Calvert) twice and they’re a pretty good basketball team, and I think we are, too,” he said. “We play two juniors and the rest are freshmen and sophomores; we start four sophomores. We’re not the state championship team we were last year, but we’re going to get back to that.”