Dons sweep home and home series against Monroe
The Monroe Vikings didn’t represent the toughest battle that the Verdugo Hills girls’ varsity basketball team have faced this season, but they did provide an opportunity for the Dons to get healthy at a point in the campaign where legs get tired, and consistency becomes tougher to maintain. While victory is never a sure thing, Coach Kevin Peterson-Henry’s concerns for the two-game set had less to do with the outcome and more about how to build momentum heading towards the postseason.
The Dons did just that as they worked key contributors back into the line-up while handily defeating Monroe in both contests. "We’re getting back healthy, and that is key,” said Coach Peterson-Henry on the state of the team heading towards the end of the regular season. "We’ve not had a full team for practice since December, and we still have a handful of players nursing injuries. We have such a great group if we can get everyone back playing together consistently.”
On February 4th, the Dons breezed past Monroe 40-15 on the road in a contest that could have been an even larger margin of victory had the starters played a larger role in the contest. Sophomore co-captain Moriah Mosley returned to the lineup from a hand injury and quickly shook off any concerns of rust. She scored 11 points on 5-16 shooting from the field and took charge on the defensive end with 3 steals and a blocked shot while pulling down 2 rebounds. Nicole Vanegas had a game-high 12 points on 4-10 shooting from the field. The Dons defense led the way as the team built a 20-4 advantage by halftime, and shut out the Vikings on the offensive end, only allowing 5 points on the scoreboard through three quarters on their way to an easy win.
More importantly, of note from the February 4th contest, was Junior guard Nicole Vanegas surpassing the 1,000-point mark in her career at Verdugo Hills. She is believed to be the first girl to accomplish the feat in the program’s history.
When the two programs met in the rematch on February 7th, the Dons came out with the same defensive energy that saw them storm out to a big lead in the previous contest, hounding the Vikings ball handlers and taking away any high percentage shot opportunities. The Dons pitched another shutout in the opening period and took an 11-0 lead into the second quarter. Monroe picked up their level of play in the second quarter, but it did not result in much success on the offensive end. To keep the game manageable, the Vikings pace on offense was slow and methodical, but the Dons stayed disciplined on the defensive end and kept the Vikings from finding any success. Monroe shot 1-9 as a team in the quarter and only managed 2 points on the scoreboard. The Dons had a 15-point lead at the half, and it didn’t look as if there was going to be any let up.
Slow second half starts have plagued Verdugo Hills in recent weeks, but the Dons showed no drop off from their tenacious defensive effort from the first half. Continuing the theme of single digit scoring quarters, the Dons held Monroe to just 3 points in the period. If they weren’t forcing the Vikings to commit turnovers, the Dons were stingy in allowing Monroe shot attempts at the basket. When the Vikings were able to get looks at the rim, the Dons were there to clean the glass, holding a 10-2 rebounding advantage in the period, led by Morriah Mbachu’s 5 rebounds. Offensively, Verdugo Hills found fluidity with their starters still on the floor, outscoring Monroe 16-3 in the period, while assisting on 5 of the 6 made baskets in the frame. Mbachu was a driving force on both ends of the floor in the game. She finished the contest with 7 points, but her presence was felt on the defensive end of the floor. She led the team with a game-high 12 rebounds and added 2 steals and 2 blocks in only 3 quarters of play. By the end of the third period, the Dons held a 33-5 advantage in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Coach Peterson-Henry removed his starters from the lineup, to give some of the younger and inexperienced players a chance to get some playing time. With the Dons bench emptied, Monroe found easier success on the offensive end. The team shot nearly 50% from the floor, while also getting to the free throw line seven times, converting on three of the attempts. They outscored Verdugo 19-12 in the final frame, which made the 45-24 final score feel like a much more competitive contest than it ultimately was.
The contests were ultimately easily won by the Dons, but the team still has work to do to get back to the dominant fashion they were winning games early in the season. “These were tough games to play because of their style of play, and I thought we did a better job of handling it in this game than the previous one,” said Coach Peterson-Henry on the girl’s performance in the two-game set. The team is beginning to establish a better rhythm as they pushed their win streak to 3 games, but there is still much room to improve before the playoffs begin. “We want to work on raising our level and continue to perfect our style of play,” said Coach Peterson-Henry. “We need to lock in defensively, get out in the break and move the ball. That’s what we will continue to work on in practice before the next game.”
The Dons will have a few days to rest before they take the floor for the regular season finale at The Barn against the Chavez Eagles on February 11th at 3 pm.