Lady Devils JV finds success on the hardwood

Lady Devil junior Kambree Brown, left, battles a Green River player for a loose ball during a JV game earlier this season at the EHS gym. Brown is one of five juniors on the JV roster who saw significant minutes at the varsity level this season, while leading the JV to a 15-6 record. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

The Evanston High School JV girls’ basketball team made the 2019-20 season one to remember, posting a 15-6 overall record and finishing a perfect 6-0 in conference.

“We ended up having a really good season,” said JV head coach Dave Deru. “Anytime you mix the juniors and the sophomores, and then you jump up another level like the sophomores did, from freshman to JV ball — it’s so much faster, and the girls are a lot bigger. We lost to the teams we should have lost to — other than Cody — and we beat the teams that we’re right there with or better than. It turned out to be a really good season.”

The Lady Devils struggled early, as the team searched for an identity — team chemistry is an important factor in the success of any program — and it took some playing together for the team to build that bond.

“I really liked how we gelled together by midseason — we just started playing together,” Deru explained. “It didn’t matter who you put in, they would communicate, they would talk to each other. We preached family all year — you have to become a family. In girls’ basketball especially, if you have any drama, it takes away from what happens on the court.”

Fortunately for Deru and the rest of the coaching staff, the team was relatively drama-free — the players stuck together and had each other’s backs, on and off the court.

“The girls really came together as a family,” he said. “By the end of the season, they were sad it was over. They had become such good friends and tight with each other, and they knew they weren’t going to get that every day anymore. I really don’t think we had a leader stand out — as a team, everyone got along with each other and did what it took to help us win and get better.”

The Lady Devils JV ran a balanced offense, with the majority of the players averaging between three and five points per game. Junior Seanna Ellingford led the team with 5 points per game, followed by sophomores Lily Johnson and Mia Barker, who finished with 4.7 and 4.5 points per game, respectively.

Junior Kambree Brown averaged 4.4 points per game, while fellow junior Taryn Holt finished with 4.2.

“We didn’t have one girl average over five points a game — we had a lot of girls in that 3.8 to 4.8 range,” Deru said.

“It’s exciting that we have that many girls averaging close to five points a game, and it just shows that sharing the ball and sharing the wealth was a priority.”

But while the team posted solid numbers offensively, Deru said it was his team’s defense that set the tone for the season. Despite being undersized — Lily Johnson was the tallest player on the roster at 5’10” — the Lady Devils consistently out-rebounded their opponents, including bigger schools like Thunder Basin, Rapid City Central and Cheyenne East.

“We were tough defensively, no question about it,” he said. “We made it hard for other teams to score. That was basically our identity — we’re going to bring it, we’re gonna get up and play and you guys better be able to handle the pressure. I was proud of how tough we were throughout the season.”

The Lady Devils weren’t immune to the nasty flu bug that swept through Evanston’s winter sports teams midway through the season — in addition to both basketball teams, wrestling, boys’ swimming and indoor track all took a hit. Deru said he and the rest of the staff had to get creative with their lineups, with many of his JV players seeing significant minutes at the varsity level.

“Everybody was sick, and we started playing some of the sophomores in the varsity games,” Deru said.

“Some of the JV girls weren’t even playing in the JV games because they were starting for the varsity. You can look at those situations and say that we added to our depth — we’ll have some younger girls that will score points for the JV moving forward.”

The JV had five juniors on the roster — Brown, Holt, Ellingsford, Heidi Barton and Nyeli Mota — who all contributed at the varsity level; that experience will prove invaluable as the girls head into their senior season.

As for the team’s sophomores — Kaitlin Deru, MacKenzie Porter, Abby Rigby, Maylia Wilson, Mia Barker and Lily Johnson — Deru said this is a group he’s coached since they were old enough to pick up a basketball in Junior Jazz, and he was impressed with their growth as players.

“Those girls have all been playing together since the fifth grade, and they’ve all grown so much as players,” he said. “I thought Kaitlin and MacKenzie and Abby did a really good job of helping run the point guard — without Heidi, we really didn’t have a true point guard to start the season. Those three really stepped up.”

Another player Deru was happy to see get some quality playing time was junior Nyeli Mota. Mota had been battling illness most of the season, finally getting healthy at the end.

“She [Mota] put in a lot of work in the offseason, so she was really frustrated with how the season went for her,” Deru explained. “But towards the end of the year, she started playing really well — handling the ball, attacking the basket — we were glad to see her finish strong.”

Deru said the younger players that will make up the core of the JV roster will also be a lot of fun to watch.

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