There are three times as many students enrolled at Washington High School than the entire population of Crofton, Nebraska. That alone made for an intriguing and rare midweek day game as top-ranked Washington played host to Crofton.
Crofton entered the game with a record of 7-0 on the season and traveled to Sioux Falls as the five-time defending Nebraska C2 State Champions. Although Crofton came to town with high credentials, Washington didn’t seem fazed at the start and were able to hang on after a late Crofton rally to win 59-51.
Washington was red hot from the field in the opening quarter. They opened a 20-4 lead thanks in large part of Maham Shah, who scored eight points in the opening four minutes of the game. Washington scored 24 first quarter points and were fluid on offense. Shah finished with a team-high 16 points and six rebounds for the game.
“We haven’t seen that kind of shooting yet this year,” said Washington coach Jamie Parish. “We know with this group of kids that we have the talent to do a lot of things but we just don’t have a lot of game experience. We’re a work in progress.”
Washington looked to cruise, but Crofton battled after Washington led by ten after the first quarter. A big part of their second quarter surge was because Shah was on the bench in foul trouble. She picked up her third midway through the quarter. In her absence, sophomore Lilly Bartling filled in and played ten minutes, scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds.
“We simplified our offense a little bit,” Parish said about losing Shah to could trouble in the second. “We needed to do that so Lilly knew where she needed to be. But she is very capable kid. She’s only 17 or 18 practices in with the varsity team. For as young and as inexperienced as she is, she’s very, very talented.”
Despite getting down early, Crofton shaved the big lead down to six at 30-24 with just under three minutes to play in the half. But Washington’s Taylor VanderVelde drilled a deep 3-pointer seconds later to get the bulge back to nine. Washington led 35-24 at halftime.
Washington got it back up to 15 with 3:36 to play in the third quarter on a Jada Cunningham basket, and again, it looked like Washington would pull away as it was just one point off its biggest lead of the game. But Crofton again dug in and rallied in the fourth quarter to make it interesting.
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Trailing by 12 to start the fourth quarter, Crofton went on an 11-2 run to open the quarter and got it to within three at 50-47. Washington scored just once in the first five-and-half minutes in the fourth quarter, but it was a beauty assist from Cunningham at the top of the key to Shah.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” Parish said. “They’ve got too much talent and we knew they would eventually come back.”
Crofton has a good one in senior Monica Arens, and Washington had its hands full all day trying to defend her. Throughout the day, Crofton found soft spots in the Washington zone defense, and Arens fired off 21 shots, making 12. She finished with 27 points, five rebounds and three assists. She scored 16 points in the second half.
“The biggest thing we tried to do is just to make sure all five of our players knew where she was at,” Parish said. “We’re a lot better in a zone, so we needed to have one person on her and we had four others waiting for her. Sometimes that still didn’t work. She’s a very special player.”
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CROFTON, NE (7-1)
Haley Arens 0 0-0 0, Monica Arens 12 0-1 27, Kelsey Sanger 4 5-7 15, Alexis Arens 3 0-0 7, Mariah Dendinger 1 0-0 2, Madison Kube 0 0-0 0, Aubree Potts 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 5-8 51.
Kelsi Kearney 1 0-0 3, Jada Cunningham 3 0-0 6, Taylor VanderVelde 5 5 3-3 15, Maham Shah 7 2-5 16, Emily VanBockern 1 1-2 3, Peyton Rymerson 3 4-4 10, Lilly Bartling 2 0-0 4, Megan Nolan 1 0-0 2. Totals: 23 10-14 59.
Crofton 14 24 36 51
Washington 24 35 48 59
3-point goals – C 6 (M. Arens 3), SFW 3 (Vandervelde 2). Rebounds – C 25 (Sanger 6), SFW 28 (Sahn 6). Assists – C 10 (M. Arens 3), SFW 14 (Cunningham 8). Turnovers – C 19, SFW 13. Blocked Shots – C 2 (M. Arens, Sangar), SFW 2 (Sahn, Rymerson). Steals – C 4 (H. Arens, M. Arens, Sanger, Dendinger), SFW 4 (Kearney 2). Total fouls – C 13, SFW 12. Fouled Out – SFW (Shah).