HARROD – As expected there is a tight race atop the Northwest Conference girls standings and this year Allen East (11-2) has added itself to the mix for a possible shot at the NWC title.
It is pretty much a five-horse race down the stretch with Bluffton leading the way in the NWC at 5-0, followed by Allen East, 4-1, Spencerville, 4-1, and Columbus Grove 3-1 with Crestview as an outside shot at 3-2 in conference play.
The final weeks will pit these schools against each other and Allen East head coach Dana Koontz is looking for his team to battle for the league crown.
Koontz said he felt confident coming into this season due to the fact that he had all five starters back and a roster that features nine senior.
In the last three years, Allen East has gone 20-47 overall and 4-20 in the NWC but Koontz said the Mustangs have learned from all those losses and lumps this team has endured throughout their high school careers.
“This is a credit to the girls who have put in a ton of time in the summer and the fall and actually the last two summers,” Koontz said. “There were times the prior two years that they were here but they were young. They weren’t seeing the fruits of their labor then but now they stuck with it and still continued to the off season lifting and shooting programs and now they are seeing it.”
This past summer Koontz said he pushed the team hard and had them compete in tournaments in Findlay, Bluffton and Adrian College in Michigan.
“It has been a slow process to get to where we are but they are believing that any time they step on the floor they can compete and beat anybody that we play,” Koontz said.
After opening the season with a loss to Arlington, 44-33, the Mustangs have won its last 11 of 12 contest. The lone stumble came against Crestview, 51-40, but since then Allen East has recorded six straight wins including a big game against Lincolnview, 46-36, Jan 17.
A well-balanced offensive attack combined with a stout defense has carried the Mustangs to wins.
Koontz said that the trio of Lauren Criblez, Tori Newland and Kate Newland spearhead the Mustang offensive attack, however, any of the other girls are more than capable of stepping up and getting the job done.
“The biggest thing is we are pretty well-rounded,” Koontz said. “We don’t really have that one go-to person. The biggest thing I would say is they don’t care who gets the credit they care who gets the win.”
Koontz added that Kate Newland, who is averaging around 13 points and five assists from the point guard position, has really blossomed into a serious offensive threat, and Criblez and Tori Newland are pumping in around 12 points a contest each.
“We don’t put a ton of points on the board but if those three are not scoring and doing what we need to do for us we have other girls that have stepped in,” Koontz said. “Ally Richardson has hit a ton of big shots from her. Olivia Lawrence has done the same thing for us and Lakin Basham has also hit a bunch of big shots.”
Offensively, Allen East is averaging 52.8 points a contest.
Defensively, the Mustangs are limiting teams to 38.5 points a contest and seven times this year Allen East has held opponents to 40 points or less.
“We play help defense and they rotate well,” Koontz said. “We can be better a little bit defending one-on-one and not have to help so much but that is something I harp on them everyday. Other than that I like our defensive intensity on the other end so I hope that continues.”
The Mustangs first big test comes when they battle Spencerville Thursday. The Bearcats are coming off a heart-breaking loss to Bluffton last week.
Koontz said his girls are excited about the opportunity to play for the league title.
“Our No. 1 goal is to win the league,” Koontz said. “They know they had that one misstep against Crestview so they know our margin of errors is slim and they know what is coming.”
Because they have struggled the past three seasons, the Mustangs have not bee accustomed to the playoff like atmosphere that has emerged in the girls NWC competition, IN the game against Bluffton and Spencerville, there was a near capacity crowd with the Bluffton pep bands and the two team’s respective cheerleading squads.
“They have practiced hard all week and they are excited for Thursday and the next two Thursday nights. League wise we know this is a big week…the loser the game is going to have to have a bunch of help so we know we are up against it a little big and we are on the road and that is no easy place to win.”