Van Horn girls basketball coach A.B. Lennox admits that he’s been surprised with the success that his team has had through 21 games this season.
After a 66-25 win over Kansas City Northeast Thursday night, the Falcons sit at 17-4, their best record since they went 19-6 during the 2014-15 season under former coach Betty Lennox, A.B.’s sister.
“The girls really surprised us when the underclassmen stepped up when Karli went down,” said Lennox, whose team was nominated for Hy-Vee Team of the Week.
And Van Horn has achieved this much success without starter Karli Schnakenberg, who was able to play only two games before suffering a season-ending injury. It has had younger players step up and returning starters elevate their game, and the result has been a successful season.
Seniors Dasiah Tatum and Chase Siedlik point to the chemistry of the team as the main reason for the Falcons being 13 games above .500. Returning starters like junior Jasmine Williams, Tatum and Siedlik all played on the varsity team together last year.
“We’re communicating better this year, and we’re united,” Tatum said.
Added Siedlik: “I haven’t had chemistry like this since my freshman year. That was why we were so successful then like we are now.”
Add in sophomore Daisy Washington, who has been one of the team’s best scorers after becoming a starter at the tail end of last year; and freshman Lexi Robinson, who has filled in admirably for Schnakenberg, and you have a formidable starting five.
Williams and Tatum, who are are both 5-foot-9, have been a dominant force in the paint and on the boards as they have put up double-doubles on a frequent basis. There was even one game in which Williams posted 20 points and 23 rebounds against Knob Noster.
“When we’re down there, nobody can stop us,” Tatum said.
Then to complete Van Horn’s balanced offense among its starters are the guards. Siedlik, a four-year-starter, is a complete guard who shoots the 3-pointer well and is good at driving to the basket. Washington has been one of the team’s best 3-point shooters and had a game against Oak Grove in which she sank seven shots from behind the arc. Robinson has been a guard who’s been able to do a little bit of everything on offense.
“Our plans were to bring Lexi in off the bench (at the beginning of the season),” Lennox said. “She came in and made a great adjustment. She still makes freshman mistakes, but she’s getting better. And the good thing about Lexi is when she makes a mistake, she knows what she’s doing. She has a high basketball IQ.
“Daisy is just a player. When Chase and Karli went down last year, she scored 26 points and 20 the next two games. We just have to get her to be more aggressive on the offensive side and defensive side. This is definitely the most well-balanced offense we’ve had. We can score outside and inside. It’s tough for other teams to prepare for.”
Off the bench, the Falcons primarily use Nayelly Sandoval, who is a skilled ball handler; and Breannah Pace, who Lennox expects to take Siedlik’s place next year as the starting point guard.
“Nayelly is our best sixth man,” Lennox said. “She can play inside and out and defend inside and out. We can bring her in as a guard or a post. Bre Pace comes in and plays a little bit. We are grooming her to get her ready to play because we have to have her next year.”
And while Van Horn has a well-balanced offense, the defense has been just as big of the part of its success. It has surrendered more than 50 points only once all season.
“Our guys have bought into the defensive system,” Lennox said. “We talk a lot about defense, defense, defense, then the offense will take care of itself. We have done a great job of holding other teams to 10 or 15 points below their season average.”
Now that the regular season is over, the Falcons turn their attention to the Class 4 District 14 tournament and will go in as the No. 2 seed. They get a first-round bye and will play Center or Pembroke Hill in the semifinals at 7 p.m. March 1. And the Falcons say they could have their first chance to win a district title since Van Horn joined the Independence School District in 2008.
“It’s going to take some hard defense,” Lennox said. “Center had a 6-7 girl and good guard play. If we play Pembroke, they have a good high-low game going and guards who can really shoot it. We have to play some mistake-free games. If we don’t turn the ball over much, I think we can compete with anyone.”
Added Siedlik: “I think we have a good chance to win districts, but I am not going to say for sure because I don’t want to jinx us. We’re going to have to work hard, but it’s doable.”