by Michael Smith
While junior guard Grace Slaughter garners a lot of attention for the Grain Valley girls basketball team, there’s one aspect of the team that might be overlooked by some.
The Eagles have played great defense for most of the season.
Coming into Friday’s championship game of the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown against Raymore-Peculiar, the Eagles held their opponents to just 34 points per game.
Their defense really shined against the Panthers as Grain Valley held them to just 11-for-33 shooting from the field (33 percent) and helped create 21 Ray-Pec turnovers in a 64-35 rout.
Grain Valley used a zone press and aggressive halfcourt defense to get multiple steals. In fact, the team had a steal on Ray-Pec’s opening possession in the second, third and fourth periods.
Players like Annabelle Totta, McKenah Sears and Cameryn Bown made things difficult for the Panthers’ perimeter players.
The 5-foot-4 Totta has seven points, eight rebounds and five steals and Sears had eight rebounds and three steals of her own. The Panthers weren’t able to drive to the basket very often and had to settle for a lot of 3-point attempts.
“Annabelle has really stepped up with Finley (LaForge) being hurt,” Slaughter said. “That’s a huge step up. We put her and Cameryn Bown on their best players and we rely on them to stop the other team’s offensive threats.”
Grain Valley head coach Draper said he’s been impressed with the way Totta has played defense all season.
“I don’t think (Totta) is fun to play against. When you’re athletic and competitive, there’s a lot of things you can do. She’s really good and people are starting to find out how good she is."
“I think our defense is pretty good and it’s going to have to be to do what we want to do. That’s a pretty good team we shut down in the second half.”
Grain Valley led 19-11 after the first period and extended the lead to 33-17 at halftime. The Panthers never got closer than 14 points during the entire second half.
On offense, junior Grace Slaughter once again put on a show with a game-high 38 points.
The junior stands at 6-foot-2 and instead of using their 6-foot-3 forward, Abigail Hellums to defend Slaughter, Ray-Pec coach Jonathan Benson used his smaller guards to check Slaughter, even when she was posting up.
“Sometimes that’s what other teams like to do because they are quicker and can stay low,” Slaughter said. “But when I post up, they have a big girl behind to help, but that’s OK because we got some girls I can pass to who can shoot.”
The strategy didn’t work, though. Slaughter was able to score inside and on the perimeter. She shot 48 percent from the field and nailed four 3-pointers.
She also hit a baseline jumper with a hand in her face, made a hook shot over a double team and completely deked a defender with a head fake and buried an 18-footer from the wing. Anything the Panthers tried, did not work.
“People have tried about every way to guard her,” Draper said. “They have quicker kids who are aggressive with her then have the bigger girls behind to help at the basket. It’s hard to have a great plan because she’s really, really good.”
The Grain Valley girls basketball team poses for a photo following a 64-35 victory over Raymore-Peculiar in the championship game of the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown. Photo credit: Michael Smith
The Grain Valley girls basketball team celebrates with its fans after winning the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown tournament. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior Grace Slaughter fist bumps activities director Brandon Hart after being named to the Grain Valley Sonic Showdown all-tournament team. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley junior Grace Slaughter prepares to take a shot. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley's McKenah Sears drives to the basket. Photo credit: Michael Smith