By Ben Robinson
SPRINGFIELD — Despite fielding a roster with limited varsity experience entering the 2016-17 basketball season under a new coach hired just three weeks before the start of the season, the Covington Lady Buccs have accepted every challenge thrown their way through the first half of the season.
And Wednesday’s contest against a Division II Springfield Shawnee team, the Lady Buccs faced intense pressure and challenges throughout the contest – but somehow managed to rise to the occasion for a very impressive 63-48 win.
“The girls are at a point now where they believe they can win,” said Covington coach Jim Meyer. “Regardless of the situation, there’s no panic, no worry – they just come out and play basketball.”
Covington held a 9-8 lead after one and then pushed the margin to 28-21 at the break thanks to a fifteen-point second period by sophomore Sammi Whiteman, who was held scoreless in the first period.
“She is the consummate point guard,” said Meyer of Whiteman, who finished with a game-high 34 points on the night. “She can score at will, but she can also set up her teammates for easy baskets. She’s just a natural point guard.”
Covington pushed its advantage to 33-23 early in the third, but Springfield Shawnee went on a 10-0 run on two treys and two buckets inside the paint to force a Covington timeout.
“The girls came to the bench during the timeout and there was no sense of panic on their faces,” Meyer explained of the timeout after the 10-0 run by Shawnee. “They just listened to our instructions and and went out and executed what we wanted them to do.”
In a blink of an eye Covington scored eight straight points to put the pressure back on Springfield Shawnee.
And it was Lexie Long and Tori Lyle who came up big with critical buckets to return the momentum to Covington’s side of the court.
“Lex and Tori have really come up big for us,” praised Meyer. “Whenever they hit shots, they are big shots at the right time.”
Lauren Christian also made big plays in the 8-0 run for Covington by pulling down a huge rebound and getting a stickback off of her effort.
“Lauren takes great pride in her physicality,” Meyer said. “She gets penalized unjustly sometimes because of her size and strength, but she doesn’t let that deter her from doing her job. She takes great pride in the things she does for us on the floor.”
With the momentum on its side, Covington was able to push its lead to 45-37 after three and then put the game away with a very well executed fourth period in which the Lady Buccs outscored Shawnee 18-11.
“The kids have really developed in this offense,” said Meyer. “Early on there was a lot of dribbling, panic, uncertainty. Now they are passing, penetrating, moving without the basketball – just executing the offense.”
It wasn’t just the offensive effort by Covington that was critical.
The defensive effort was even more impressive as the Lady Buccs forced 17 turnovers – six coming on steals – and committed just five turnovers of their own.
“It’s tribute to the girls with how well they’ve picked things up – understanding what we want and executing it on the floor in such a short period of time,” explained Meyer. “These kids respond to coaching. They have a lot of heart and they play their roles to the best of their ability. Each girl takes pride in doing their individual responsibilities well.”
Something Meyer has been amazed with considering their short time together.
“I’m learning new things about these kids every day,” he said. “Tonight it was their resiliency and that they’ll just do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Covington was 24 of 61 shooting from the floor, five of 14 from the three-point line and a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line, while Shawnee was 18 of 44 from the floor, six of 16 from behind the arc and six of nine from the line.
Shawnee out rebounded Covington 32-29, but the Lady Buccs held a 10-8 edge on the offensive glass against their much larger opponent.
The Lady Buccs, now 10-1, travel to CCC rival Tri-Village on Jan. 5 in a matchup of CCC unbeatens.