BRISTOL - Without a polished scorer on the court and the postseason approaching, the St. Paul girls basketball team has still shown the ability to win with gritty performances.
“I tell everybody we’re winning ugly,” Falcons head coach Joe Mone said. “But I guess winning ugly is better than losing beautiful. I wish we could play a little better. A lot of times with teams like this that don’t play really well during the year, when the tournament comes something clicks in their heads and all of the sudden it’s like, ‘Where have they been all year?’”
St. Paul finished its regular season with a 17-3 record and claimed the NVL Copper Division title, the fifth consecutive year the team has won a division title.
It hasn’t come easy, with injuries suffered throughout the season.
The secondary players from earlier in the season have stepped up to replace the scoring that needed to be replaced.
It’s all started with sophomore Jade Udoh, a force down low in the paint for St. Paul.
“I want her to do more,” Mone said. “I think she’s capable of more and I told her I’m going to push her and put pressure on her to do more, because if you watch her game - the skill level for a sophomore in the post with the moves and the little jumper in the lane - I want to push her to do even more than she’s doing now. The expectations are that she’s a truly good player and she needs to play like one. If she plays like she did [against Derby] the rest of the way, we’ll be alright and we’re going to be there and maybe pull off some upsets down the stretch of both [the league and state] tournaments.”
Along with Udoh, the Falcons have seen more production out of Morgan Kolb, Molly Hooks and senior Aidrianna Lopez. All four have helped chip in scoring for St. Paul.
Another important part of the Falcons’ success has been rebounding. St. Paul has height, with Udoh and Hooks, and also has toughness with the 5-foot-3 Lopez fighting for rebounds down low and not backing down from anybody.
Outrebounding other teams is going to be crucial in the tournament, as the Falcons will run into teams with better scoring.
“We have to be good at defensive rebounding going forward,” Udoh said. “Because you can score 30 points, but then you can also give up 40. It’s going to be about defensive rebounding and hustling. We have to have more heart than the other team.”
St. Paul isn’t going to back down, as it hasn’t done so all season long. The Falcons are a group of players that opponents with better-skilled players won’t want to face with their seasons on the line.
“I’m really amazed at the resiliency,” Mone said. “The resiliency of being on them all the time and every time somebody goes down the next person steps up, so I really give them a lot of credit. Most teams would have folded at that point and had five or six losses, but we’ve lost just two games since then. I give them credit. There’s no die in them. They’re going to play hard and they’re going to scrap.”
St. Paul may have suffered through a lot this season internally, but they’re a team ready for postseason play at the league and state levels.
“It’s not an individual going after the basket, it’s one team,” Lopez said. “If we play as one team, we will succeed.”