ELMHURST – It’s tough to find a silver lining in the St. Charles North girls basketball team’s 63-30, season-opening loss to Neuqua Valley at the York Thanksgiving Tournament on Wednesday.
If there is one, it may be that North’s starting lineup was comprised two freshmen and two sophomores playing against a deep Wildcats squad that returns a wealth of experience.
The inexperience showed early for the North Stars as Neuqua Valley raced to a 13-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game. The Wildcats’ relentless press forced six North turnovers to start the game.
It wasn’t until 6:34 into the quarter that the North Stars attempted their first shot. North was a bit shell-shocked at the start of the game to say the least.
“We weren’t happy with the first quarter and we had the ability to change that pretty quickly,” North coach Colleen Backer said. “We had some jitters early but we played hard for four quarters, no question.”
North trailed 22-3 after one quarter but made adjustments that showed at the start of the second. The young North Stars began breaking Neuqua’s press and also began fronting the Wildcats’ big front line on defense.
Both fixes eased Neuqua’s ability to pressure and North began to cash in offensively. Natalie Winkates and Sam Novak came off the bench and each scored four points that saw the North Stars’ cut the lead to 29-13.
But, the Wildcats began the second half on a 14-0 run that saw the lead swell to 47-16 before Kyla Helsel hit a three to end a nearly six minute scoreless draught.
“They (Neuqua Valley) are a tough team but that’s reality for us,” Backer said. “We’ve got a tough schedule and we develop it that way. We are a young team – we started two freshmen and two sophomores. I think they and the rest of our team can handle it though.”
As they did for most of the night, the Wildcats relied on their superior size inside. 6-foot-2 sophomore center Bryce Menendez led a balanced Neuqua attack with 14 points, many of which came via layups and short jump shots.
“The bottom line is we have a core group of kids who have been playing in the same system of the last couple of years,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “We got off to a great start in the first quarter and went from there.”
Winkates led North with nine points while Allie Reed pitched in six off the bench.
North will continue play at York today at 4:30pm against Conant.