Suffice it to say that the Chaminade Lady Eagles, having blown out the Notre Dame Academy Regal Gryphons 86-40 last month in January, didn’t have a whole lot to worry about heading into its rematch with NDANotre Dame. But last Wednesday the Feb. 10 night’s rematch, the final game before the playoffs for both teams, was far more than a tuneup for Chaminade. Coming off an uncharacteristic double-digit loss to Bishop Alemany earlier in the month, and subsequently dropping from fifth to ninth in the California state rankings, the Lady Eagles entered this rematch feeling like they had something to prove to themselves — which they did, with a commanding 95-56 win.
“We lost a bad one to Alemany and so we really wanted to make sure we came back with a lot of passion and pride in what we do, and play faster,” explains Chaminade head coach Kelli Di Muro. “Notre Dame Academy is a good team. They have good, solid players. So we knew if we could play strongly against them, that it would help us get ready for the playoffs.”
“Our main focus was to come out and run our plays a lot,” adds Chaminade senior captain Valerie Higgins. “When you’re in the playoffs in high-pressure situations, you want to know your plays like the back of your hand and know that you’ll be able to execute down the line when you need a last second shot.”
Mission accomplished on all accounts, as Chaminade, even without All-American senior Leaonna Odom (out with an injury), executed its game plan tremendously on both ends of the floor, sealing their win to the tune of a commanding 95-56 win over the Regal Gryphonsn the Regal Gryphons’ home floor.
Fueled by USC-bound Higgins’ 14 first quarter points and another nine from junior guard/forward Melissa Wright, Chaminade exploded out of the gates and led Notre Dame 29-7 after the first frame. The Regal Gryphons settled down valiantly in the second quarter, however, as senior forward Stephanie Umeh responded with a nine point outburst of her own, galvanizing Notre Dame into outscoring Chaminade 21-19 in the quarter.
But the second half belonged to the Lady Eagles, who quickly regained firm control over the game after halftime with a 31 point third quarter explosion. And the night belonged to Higgins, who despite resting for the entire fourth quarter, led all scorers with 29 points, and also contributed seven rebounds, six steals, and, perhaps most impressively, eight assists.
“She’s always had a ‘pass first’ mentality,” says Di Muro of Chaminade’s captain. “She’s so unselfish, and she sees the floor so well. She has such a high basketball IQ.”
And the entire Chaminade team certainly followed their leader’s pass first mentality, as eight different Lady Eagles entered the scoring column. Wright and senior forward Zoe Tinsley, both of whom also rested for the whole fourth quarter, finished with 16 and 15 points respectively. And sophomore center Jasmine Moore had a huge second half, scoring all 14 of her points after halftime.
“We really are a ‘team first’ kind of team,” asserts Higgins. “We really don’t care who scores the baskets. As long as we’re ahead on the scoreboard, that’s all that matters to us. We’re just trying to win all the games that we can.”
Despite what the final scoreboard may have indicated, Notre Dame actually has a lot to be proud of. Though the first and third quarters got away from them, the Regal Gryphons were only outscored 16-14 in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame also received nine points each from junior guards Kendall Chan and Dannielle Orteza. “We worked hard as a team, and there are things that we need to work on going into the playoffs, but I know we can build on this,” says Umeh. “Even in this loss, we can come back and do better.”
And while Chaminade ended its regular season on a high note, it did unfortunately include a sour note, as key freshman reserve Grace Hammon (who nailed back-to-back three pointers in the second quarter) endured a hairline fracture in her clavicle. With Odom already likely to miss another week or so, Chaminade is hobbling into the playoffs from a physical standpoint.
Despite the recent injuries, Chaminade remains supremely confident as it prepares for its playoff run. “I feel really good [about the playoffs],” says Di Muro. “I’m hoping that Leaonna Odom can come back and play strongly in the playoffs.”
“I know, no matter who’s playing and who isn’t, that we’re going to come together as a team and be able to pull it out,” echoes Higgins.