BY CHARLES CHANEY
ANDOVER, Kansas—There haven’t been many performances in which the Andover Central Jaguars have had more turnovers than the buckets allow in a half, but Tuesday night inside the “Jungle,” as the Andover gym is often called Central High, that’s what happened.
Andover Central girls suffered a turnover in the first half but did not concede a shot.
Their defense and all-around play were just that good on Tuesday.
The Jaguars, who entered the game 10th in Class 5A by the coaches, showed why they’re likely to climb tomorrow’s new leaderboard, dominating the Valley Center, 46-20
The center (10-3) jumped ahead 16-0 after one quarter and never looked back. led by seniors Maddi Amekporfor and Hayden Snodgrass, the jaguars looked like a last years team, with multiple guns forcing teams to protect the aforementioned players 1-on-1. It took some time but they are starting to gel.
“They’ve all stepped up and taken on new roles,” center coach Stana Jefferson said. “From Maddi [Amekporfor], who started the last four years with Taylin Tabor, who is a sophomore who has never been on the floor. Everything that happened before Christmas was trying to define who Jaguars would be and I think we’re in it and now we’ll just have to build on what we’ve built.
Their schedule earlier in the year set them up for the success they are having now. Starting at 1-3 and running through a gauntlet that most schools would have sitting at 1-3, they are building something they can be strongest at in late February and well into March. Beating Bishop Carroll last week at the Newton Invitational showed growth. Carroll had gone undefeated to start the game and the Jaguars, despite trailing at halftime, never faltered.
“Stana says we can’t stop there,” senior post Maddi Amekporfor said. “Some teams would be satisfied beating Bishop Carroll, the No. 2 team in the state, but we’re not done yet.”
They showed it on Tuesday night.
They took all the momentum and pitched it against the Hornets (4-9) and didn’t allow a single bucket in the first half. They had more turnovers (1) than buckets allowed (0). The only points allowed were free throws on a foul in which the Valley Center player was open under the basket. They would have scored anyway.
That defensive presence, unlike what has happened in recent years, showed a closed mentality, even against a team with an inferior track record. This team is preparing for a special run, even if they haven’t lost in nearly two months.
“We were tested in early December before we really knew who we were,” Jefferson said. “All we have to do is continue to build and keep our relationship strong. The best thing about this team is that they jive together. It’s taken a while, but the super selfless kids out there have a blast.”
That too was on display. Whether it was making the extra pass or finding a teammate on a runaway after a steal, the Jaguars gave insight into just how dominant they really could be when they’re in their groove.
For seniors like Amekporfor, they are adapting to new roles and growing as leaders. For the last three seasons, all she had to do was run the field, get to the block, and teams would leave the 1-on-1 defender with her because they had to worry about Brittany Harshaw, Ellie Stearns, Bailey Wilborn and Jaden Newfarmer, the list goes on. This season her focus has turned to her as a defensive game plan for opponents and as a leader for her teammates.
“I had to learn to be patient with my teammates,” Amekporfor said. “We had to find our roles, even with me playing a new role, I’d never show my teammates if I was frustrated because they’re learning and I knew even at 1-3 we’d improve.”
And how they improved.
The Jaguars had a nine-game hitting streak, none more impressive than last week’s NIT Championship. They followed Olathe Northwest and Bishop Carroll at halftime. They found a way to rally and their youth was a reason why.
While we know Snodgrass has been assertive, leading scorer in last week’s NIT and had 17 points in the win over Valley Center, it’s their teammates who are helping them become a dangerous team.
Players like Haven Deckinger and Tabor become key contributors to the varsity team, with Deckinger a regular for the team. Tabor, who had six points in the win Tuesday night, is becoming a quality role player down the stretch. He is part of a talent system that the Jaguars have developed over the past few seasons. Coach Jefferson preached about how good their under-university was, going undefeated and winning games convincingly. You’re starting to see some of that success at the college level.
“I knew what I had more than anyone,” Jefferson said. “I’m just proud of those girls and they stood and grinded and waited their turn before those Mustangs I graduated. They know now is their time and right now we are shining.
While Central isn’t a deep team, not like they’ve really gone deep 10 in the last five years anyway, when they’re on, they’re on. Avery Mason, now sporting Harshaw’s No. 22, also made it his own by dropping a three in the second quarter as Andover Central continued its torrid run on the Valley Center.
For Jefferson, it was a renewed vigor in coaching. Over the past four years, he’s had players who could almost read her mind. This year, it’s been a bit of a learning curve, growing the game and growing the players into what makes his program successful.
“It was good for me,” she said. “It was a completely different year. It’s good for me and it’s been good for the girls. It’s a completely different team and it’s been fantastic.
Now, the Jaguars schedule leans a little harder. They play against Goddard Eisenhower on Friday. Then, next Friday they play Maize South and Andover the following Tuesday, another four-game stretch of really tough competition. Eisenhower (9-4) came from behind to beat Andover in Andover on Tuesday.
“We know like last week when we were down at the break that it’s not over,” said Amekporfor. “We knew then that it wasn’t over. It’s not over yet. We have a difficult game to play. So, we have to take that quarter by quarter and we’ll be able to do that.