Coach Jamie VanDever couldn't remember when Augusta's girls basketball teams all had been this good at the same time.
The 7th-grade A team finished the season with an 11-2 record. The 8th-grade A team finished with a 12-1 record. Both Bluejay squads won the Pioneer League regular-season championships, and both are in good shape to make a run during the PL tournament this week.
Interestingly, the two teams have been dominant in such different ways. VanDever explained that the 8th graders have had balanced scoring, while the 7th graders are led by one key scorer and several important role players.
"Madison Wheeler is the leading scorer, but she isn't that far ahead of Teresa Steinkamp, Kylie McDaniel, and Jayden Austin. Guard Natalie Rockers doesn't score as much as the other girls, but is a solid player in every area," VanDever said of the 8th-grade team. "…The 7th graders play it differently. This team has one dominating scorer, Jayden Marlnee, who averaged 16 points per game. She is surrounded by a very solid group of players. Raine Harman, Kenzie Kirk, Katie Rockers and Kourtney Divine are just a few of the players who combine to carry the rest of the load."
VanDever added that the 8th graders have been successful partly because they've been able to play their natural positions. Wheeler and Natalie Rockers handle the ball at the guard positions
Guard Natalie Rockers doesn't score as much as the other girls, but is a solid player in every area.
Steinkamp and Austin have been strong post players, and McDaniel can flex to either position.
One advantage the Bluejays have had against just about every team they've faced this season is depth. There isn't much drop-off when the Bluejays bring in players off the bench.
"Ryleigh McLallen, Katie Payne, Jordan Curry, Emily Hall, and Brooke Patterson have all made vital contributions at various times this season," VanDever said.
The same goes for the 7th-grade team.
"This team also has a deep bench. Natalie Bevan, Nataleigh Cantu, Cali Anderson, Bailey Pennycuff and Abbee Rhodes make this one of the deepest teams we have ever had," VanDever said.
Perhaps the biggest testament to the teams' depth, however, is the success the B teams have had. The 8th-grade B Bluejays finished the season 15-0 to cap their middle-school careers with a 30-0 record. The 7th-grade B team also finished the season undefeated at 14-0 in dominating fashion. VanDever said the Bluejays outscored their opponents by an average of 38-7 this season. While the rest of the league might have been down a little this year, the Bluejays certainly weren't.
"We have a luxury this year that other teams just don't have. Our B team players may not have the overall basketball skills of our A-team players; everyone gets that," VanDever said. "But we have an expectation that these girls will make the same commitment to hard work in practice and in games that the A-team girls do. If you look at our B teams in terms of work ethic and intensity in practice, you would not be able to tell them apart from our A-team players."
VanDever said that coach Brooke Train and coach Brad Gober have done great jobs of managing their respective teams to get the most out of them and to push them to perform at a high level. Now he just hopes the teams finish off the season with a tournament trophy.