It takes more than just a sweet jump shot and slick moves to be a supreme scorer. When opposing defenses keep putting up basketball road blocks designed to stop you, it takes patience and creativity to try something else that might work.
That’s something Ashley Vanderwall learned years ago when the Palmyra-Macedon junior guard and her father, Terry, would sneak into local gymnasiums to work on her shooting. “When they kicked us out of one gym in town we’d just go to the next,” remembers Terry, 54, who was a pretty good scorer back in his day for Pal-Mac in the late 1970s.
His sister, Tracy, holds the school scoring record of 1,151 points and Ashley should break her aunt’s record sometime later this season if she keeps scoring at her current clip of 24.3 points per game. She has 939 points. “She’s the best pure scorer in Section V,” says Pittsford Sutherland coach Dan Judd.
The Red Raiders (Class B1) have climbed to No. 2 in the Democrat and Chronicle‘s small-school coaches’ poll and were unbeaten until Wednesday’s 55-50 loss to Geneva (Class A2). Still, they’re 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the Finger Lakes East under second-year coach Dave Gross. Pal-Mac hopes to win its first Finger Lakes East title since the mid-1980s and first Section V crown since 2001.
“Last year, when we lost in the semifinals (71-68 to Batavia) it left a not-so-good feeling,” says Vanderwall, who averaged 19.9 points last season. “We know we don’t want that feeling again.”
Vanderwall was feeling it that night. She scored 18 of what was then her career high of 37 points in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t enough. She topped that with 38 points in Monday’s 71-67 overtime victory at Mercy, where Pal-Mac trailed 22-4 early in the second quarter. Mercy’s hustling man-to-man and zone defenses weren’t giving Vanderwall any open shots.
But it didn’t rattle her. Nothing ever seems to, Gross says.
“It’s frustrating, but the girls (her teammates) help me out and get me screens that help me get open,” says the 16-year-old Vanderwall, who is shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range, 81 percent from the line and also averages 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals.
Those screens and her continual movement did the trick at Mercy. Pal-Mac went on a 22-6 surge to take a two-point lead at halftime. Vanderwall scored eight points in the second quarter, then erupted for 28 in the second half and OT.
“She just went nuts,” Mercy coach Tom Vasey says. “Ashley just took over. The offense doesn’t run through her all the time but she finds a way to get open. She uses screens very well and she works really hard to get open. That’s the biggest thing. She just finds a way to score.”
That’s something her father used to tell his only child. Actually, Ashley will tell you he still reminds her of that. “Move without the ball. Don’t just stand and ball watch,” she says he’s always saying.
Ashley, a 90-average student, says she learned to shoot by playing plenty of games of P.I.G. and Around the World with her father. Last year, she beat him one-on-on for the first time. She also has learned a lot from former Canandaigua Academy and SUNY Geneseo coach Bob Guy, who welcomed her to open gyms when he was the CA coach and coached one of her AAU teams.
The 5-foot-10 Vanderwall makes sharp cuts off screens and when she sees a seam in the defense she doesn’t hesitate. Although she has a low release point — the result of an unorthodox shooting motion that starts with her bending down and forward — Vanderwall has a quick trigger on her jumper.
She has been advised by some to alter that and she is trying. She knows it’ll be tougher to shoot in college. But when the ball goes in so often now, why change?
“It seems like she can just turn on a switch. Once she gets that one 3-point shot or an and-one (three-point play), she scores in bunches,” says Gross, a Fairport graduate who says the first time he saw Vanderwall play in a summer league game he knew “right away” he had “just a pure scorer.”
Pal-Mac returned two starters, Vanderwall and senior forward Courtney Ameele (11.2 ppg), from last year’s 11-9 club. Another, center Kelsi Nau, tore her ACL in soccer and is out for the season. But freshmen Aldyn Savage, Riley Record and Abby Halsey have made big contributions, especially defensively.
Gross says Vanderwall has a quiet demeanor on the court. Deep down, though, she’s ferociously persistent. “She just prevails no matter what,” Gross says.
She also has showed mental toughness at the free-throw line on the road twice this season. With about 30 seconds left at Midlakes in a tie game, she was fouled and made both. Pal-Mac won by four points. With about the same amount of time left in regulation at Mercy, Pal-Mac trailed by three points. Vanderwall was fouled shooting a 3-pointer, but made all three to force OT.
“Probably the most nerve-wracking moment I’ve ever (had) in my basketball career,” she remembers.
“She didn’t look that way,” Vasey says. “They were all (three) swishes.”