CLEARMONT — The Arvada-Clearmont girls basketball team lacked something for over two and a half quarters of its game against Kaycee Saturday, something essential to the game of basketball that doesn’t take any extra effort at all — a fun, lighthearted mindset.
The attitude adjustment, while so simple and rudimentary, made all the difference in the latter stages of the Lady Panthers’ 45-25 rivalry victory.
“We were in the huddle and coach just said we needed to start having fun,” AC’s Ashlynn Fennema said. “We were getting down, but we just started hitting a few shots, and we just gained confidence and went on a roll.”
Fun. It has evaded AC of late. Even amid the double-digit wins, spotless conference record and weekly recognition in the wyopreps.com rankings, the Panthers forgot to enjoy the simple thing that made most of them pick up basketball in the first place.
AC needed to rediscover that childish glee that is woven in the fabric of every bounce of the ball, that level of excitement felt when the ball passes through the net and the pride found after collecting a rebound following a defensive stand.
Pressure had recently taken the forefront for the Lady Panthers and masked the fun. AC sits atop the conference standings — having already completed more than half of its league games — and every foe the Lady Panthers play deals them the best punch they have in their arsenal. And even though AC’s thrown a more powerful punch back each and every time — the Panthers’ 5-0 conference record as evidence of that — the wear and tear had started to seep through.
“We’re a team that hasn’t ever been in contention for a conference championship with any girl on the team,” AC head coach Sarah Walker said. “… Going into the last couple of conference games, none of these girls have ever played on a team that kind of has a little bit of a target on their back. We’ve sort of made a name for ourselves in the Northeast.”
That pressure and tightness loomed over the Lady Panthers for nearly three full quarters Saturday. Kaycee logged back-to-back baskets that cut AC’s lead to 22-21 with 2:20 to play in the third period. The Lady Panthers leaned back on their heels, but instead of backpedaling, responded, tallying the last seven points of the stanza.
The momentum carried into the game’s final eight minutes, and the Lady Buckaroos only recorded one more field goal the rest of the way. That final bucket occurred at the 5:30 mark as AC’s zone perplexed and suffocated Kaycee.
“I think the difference was when you get the offensive confidence, it’s easier to play defense,” Walker said. “We work really hard on defense, but it’s hard to be good on defense when your offense isn’t working, when you feel like, I just missed layup and now I have to go play defense. We pride ourselves on our defensive game, but we need that offensive spark to get us going to outlast a team on the defensive side, and we got that.”
Fennema and Kristin Klaahsen fanned the offensive park. The pair combined to score 15 of the Panthers’ final 23 points of the game. The two guards having the rhythm they displayed in the third and fourth quarters shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the two have competed alongside one another for years.
“We’ve played together for like ever, so we can kind of read each other,” Klaahsen said. “We kind of have our own language and telepathy out on the court.”
Klaahsen finished with 17 points while Fennema added 14. Fennema gave the Lady Panthers the lead at halftime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that put AC out in front 18-15.
The two teams seesawed the entire first half as neither club led by more than five points. The Lady Panthers owned a 5-4 edge at the end of the first quarter and remained ahead in a second quarter that featured both teams logging back-to-back field goals just once.
The Lady Panthers dip out of conference play and host Thunder Basin’s sophomore team Tuesday.
Kaycee………………………………………4 11 6 4 — 25
Arvada-Clearmont…………………………5 13 11 10 — 45
Kaycee — Pierson 10, Malson 6, Fauber 5, Troll 4
Arvada-Clearmont — Klaahsen 17, Fennema 14, Auzqui 4, Beam 3, Malli 3, Adamson 2, Smith 2