Lady Red Devil McKensie Herold, pictured shooting during Evanston’s game against Jackson last season, is the team’s leading scorer this year. File photo
AFTON — The Lady Red Devils, after another break of almost two weeks, will jump back into action this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 28 and 29. The team played three games in the McDonald’s Classic tournament, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 in Cheyenne, and then were off until Dec.13, when they opened play in the 18th annual Flaming Gorge Classic. But they’re still seeking that elusive first victory.
If there ever was a perfect game to right the ship, it might be this Friday night’s showdown with Star Valley in Afton. The two schools are rivals in not only basketball, but many current Lady Red Devils hoopsters know their sisters from Star Valley in the sport of volleyball, too. Combine the rivalry factors with the confidence boost a win over a quality opponent like Star Valley would represent, and on the road, the recipe for turning the season’s 0-6 start around beginning with the Lady Braves may be just what the doctor ordered.
The Lady Braves are ranked second in the final WyoPreps.com Coaches and Media poll, in the 3A classification. They are off to a 3-3 start. During the 2010-2011 season, Star Valley’s last year in the 4A ranks, they were very much Evanston’s nemesis as conference rivals. The teams split in 2009-2010, with the Lady Red Devils earning a 49-48 victory in Evanston.
For the past few seasons, most games have been close, but if the score was lop-sided, it was ordinarily in Star Valley’s favor. While no longer conference rivals, the two remain historical and regional rivals.
Star Valley swept the Lady Red Devils last season, winning 36-29 in Evanston on Dec. 27, and 37-32 in Afton on Jan. 13, despite Evanston leading 23-10 at the half and 32-18 going into the fourth quarter, when the Lady Braves poured in 19. Evanston did not score in the final eight minutes during the last meeting between the two teams.
Of the 16 teams in the 3A division, Star Valley ranks 11th in scoring, with 35.7 points per game, 3.3 more points than they relinquish, on average. They are fourth in shooting, overall, converting 35 percent from the field — 23 percent from three-point range, 38 percent inside the arc and 50 percent from the line.
The Lady Red Devils have averaged 35.2 points per game, but yielded an average of 13.3 more to their opponents through their first six games. Evanston ranks 12th in scoring and 11th in overall shooting among the 12 4A schools, at 31 percent, including 18 percent of three-point shots, 33 percent of two-point baskets and 54 percent from the free-throw line.
Through their first six games, Star Valley’s 26 rebounds per game are 7.1 less than their opponents have pulled down per game. Evanston’s 21 boards per game are 3.3 less than their opponents’ average total.
The Lady Braves are second in team defense, behind the Lady Bearcats of Douglas, who lead all 3A team categories, giving up 32.3 points per game. Evanston has surrendered an average of 48.7, ranking eighth in Class 4A.
Among common opponents, both teams were handily defeated by Cheyenne East in the Flaming Gorge tourney, with Evanston dropping a 23-58 decision, and Star Valley losing 24-46. Evanston had Laramie on the ropes, ultimately falling, 40-43, while the Lady Plainsmen downed Star Valley, 39-31.
Evanston returns two full-time starters, as has been noted, in McKensie Herold and Meghann Cranford, and also MacKenzee Barker, who started for Evanston for much of last year, especially in the latter half of the last season. Herold was among last season’s leading scorers, and is the top scorer so far this year, averaging 9.5 points, is second with 4.2 rebounds and leads the Lady Red Devils with 1.7 steals per outing. Cranford is second in scoring at 6.8 ppg and collects a team-high 4.7 rebounds. Barker’s four assists per game top that category. Hailey O’Neil contributes six points and Kylie Hurd, 5.2 per game.
Star Valley returns two starters in five-foot, 11-inch center Lexie Erickson and five-foot, five-inch guard Hailey Greenwood, their two leading scorers from last year’s campaign. Erickson leads the Lady Braves in all categories, very close to a solid double-double, with 9.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Her 2.7 assists, 1.3 blocked shots and three steals are also team benchmarks. Greenwood is averaging 8.8 points per game, with fellow five-foot, five inch junior guard Jessica Woolford contributing eight points for coach Robert Erickson’s Lady Braves. Greenwood and Woolford share individual game highs of 18, with 16 for Erickson as a season-high in scoring. O’Neill netted 17 as the most points in one game for Evanston, and Cranford and Herold have each hit for 16.
The two teams show very similar depth, with a slight advantage to Star Valley.
Hurd for Evanston and Woodford for Star Valley have demonstrated having the best touch from long range for their respective teams, at 40 and 38 percent, respectively, with Herold and Greenwood, the go-to scorers inside the arc.
A first win for the season will pay dividends, but would be more beneficial coming against Star Valley, rather than against the Lady Broncs the following day in Jackson Hole. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. from the SVHS Gym.
A 12:45 p.m. tap time is slated for Saturday’s match-up with Star Valley’s main rival, Jackson. Evanston won both meetings last season, 40-26 on Dec. 28 in Evanston, and 42-30 on Jan. 14 in Jackson.
The Lady Broncs are 0-8, but have two losses by a combined eight points to Buffalo, including a triple overtime season opener. Jackson was within three points of Cody. The Lady Red Devils’ and Lady Broncs’ schedules include one common opponent in Rich County, which defeated Evanston 45-40 in overtime, and knocked off Jackson, 54-45.
The Lady Broncs average 36 points per game, and have given up 45.8 on average. A rebounding edge of three per game would go to the opponents, 28.3 to 31.3 per game. The Lady Broncs have combined to shoot 17 percent from the land of three, 29 percent on field goals attempted and have converted 55 percent of their free-throw line attempts.
Four starters return for coach Scott Harris in five-foot, seven-inch junior Bridget Gwiliiam, five-foot, seven-inch senior Flynn Guerrieri, five-foot, six-inch senior Jess Freeze, and five-foot, four-inch senior Maddie Sutton.
Gwilliam leads the team in scoring, at 9.3 per game, with Guerrieri second, tallying 8.1 ppg, and is also second in team rebounding, with 5.4 caroms per game. Six-foot, one-inch senior Liz Walker is the team’s leading rebounder, pulling down 6.6 per game, and also leads the team with 1.9 blocked shots each time out. Freeze is the team’s best distributor and thief, accounting for 2.6 assists and two steals per game.
Tait Hanson, a five-foot, eight-inch junior, is contributing almost six points per game in a Jackson rotation which appears comparable to Star Valley’s and Evanston’s, with eight to nine players ordinarily seeing court time.
Gwilliam may not be the best shooter from downtown, but is given the green light from the coaching staff to launch from long-range; her 25 attempts are more than the rest of her teammates combined. Gwilliam and Guerrieri have been the mainstays inside the arc, and the Lady Red Devils do not want to send Hanson and Guerrieri to the free-throw line too often, as both are shooting 68 percent from the the charity stripe.
The Lady Broncs will be fresh for Saturday’s tip-off, with Evanston coming off the Friday night game in Afton. Star Valley and Jackson will make the return trip to Evanston on Jan. 11 and 12, for Evanston’s home-opening weekend, unveiling the new bleachers and other enhancements from the Red Devils’ gym.