by Michael Smith
Grain Valley head girls basketball coach Randy Draper said he knew his team was going to be good going into the 2021-22 season.
However, he didn’t expect his team to play the way it did through its first three games in the Winnetonka Tournament.
And that’s a good thing.
The Eagles dominated, winning by an average margin of 28.3 points per game and that was capped by their 64-29 blowout of Grandview in the championship game of the Cardinal Division Friday at Winnetonka High School.
“I didn’t think we could do what we did tonight yet,” Draper said of his thoughts before the season started. “We were really good tonight! We just shared the ball and played. People love watching the girls play because of how they share the ball.”
A big reason for the rout was the defense, especially in the first half. Grain Valley held Grandview to just 10 points in the first 16 minutes. The team closed out and contested 3-point shooters, didn’t allow players to get open off screens and made good rotations to make it tough for the Bulldogs to get open looks or layups.
“They have some great offensive players like Ciaira Smith, and we knew if we wanted to be in this game, we would have to defend, and that’s what kept us in the game,” said Eagles junior Grace Slaughter, who outscored Grandview by herself with a game-high 30 points, 29 of which came in the first half.
“We were able to get the defensive boards, push the ball and get layups. And we hustled back on defense so they couldn’t get their offense going.”
Sophomore point guard McKenah Sears scored all five of her points in the third quarter to help Grain Valley extend its lead to 55-24 going in a fourth period in which they had a turbo clock. In the final period, the Eagles outscored the Bulldogs 9-5.
“Offensively, we were really good. We were good on both ends,” Draper said. “We’ve been as good as we’ve been. (Smith) over there is a great player and they have a couple girls who shoot it well, too. We did a pretty good job getting to them and did a good job rebounding the basketball.”
While Slaughter dominated on offense like she usually does, sophomore shooting guard Finley LaForge has emerged as another scoring threat for the Eagles. In this game, she had 16 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
“People don’t understand how good she is,” Draper said. “They’re starting to figure that out. She’s just a good basketball player. She sees people, she sees Grace and she can shoot it.”
Slaughter echoed Draper’s sentiments.
“It just makes me so excited because that just makes multiple threats on a team,” Slaughter said. “Getting both going on offense … teams can’t always (play zone defense or man-to-man defense). We have so many different scoring threats. Meghan (Knust) in the short corner, Ella (Clyman), Finley and McKenah (Sears) are all hitting threes.”
Slaughter was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 34.6 points per game.
The Grain Valley girls basketball team celebrates with the first-place trophy after a 64-29 win over Grandview in the finals of the Winnetonka Tournament's Cardinal Division.
Photo credit: Michael Smith