Grand Valley girls have a new style on court
PARACHUTE – Describing Grand Valley’s style of play this year requires a different vocabulary than in years past.The Cardinals are running circles around teams, pushing the ball up and down the floor with a fury. And it all starts on the defensive end. Grand Valley feeds its full-court beast of an offense with a ferocious man-to-man attack that coughs up steal after steal.”We’re a different team,” head coach Mike Johnson said. “We’re much more in-your-face on defense. We’re much more up and down the floor on offense.”Added senior post Whitney Ashcraft: “In years past, we’d usually play zone. This year we’re playing more man to man, a lot more in your face. We like it a lot, pushing the ball.”Armed with speedy personnel, led by Rifle transfer Kendall Babler, Johnson knew in the summer he had a team capable of pushing the ball.The Cardinals’ performance in open gyms, camps and tournaments validated his hunch. Grand Valley put together a 28-7 record in 35 summer contests. “I think it all started in the offseason,” Johnson said. “The kids were really committed to getting things done. My job is just getting ’em in shape.”In shape is exactly what the Cards are with a 7-0 record after knocking off the likes of Aspen and Dove Creek at the Friday and Saturday Grand Valley Invitational. Babler, who helped Rifle to the Class 4A Great Eight last season, is the driving force behind Class 2A Grand Valley’s success. Before arriving in Parachute, she had already established herself as one of the area’s top point guards. Her speed, unparalleled court vision and ability to thread the tiniest of needles with her zippy passes have greatly diversified both the Cardinal offense and defense.It didn’t hurt she joined a team that already had its fair share of athletes. “Our guards get out and run well,” Babler said. “Everyone’s quick. Everyone knows what they need to do and where they need to be.”Like herself, Babler’s new teammates are also starving to win, with several holdovers from a 2005-06 squad that made the state tournament. “I knew they had a good work ethic,” she said. “I knew they wanted to work hard to get back.”That shared goal of winning has galvanized this Grand Valley team. Johnson claimed it’s one of the most united groups he’s ever coached.”They spent a lot of time together in the summer,” he said. “One thing is they’re confident kids. They’re really confident in each other. They’ve bonded quite a bit more than other teams.””It’s the best team I’ve ever played on,” said senior guard Sherry Mlakar. “We’re all kind of each other’s best friend. That makes it easier to play with each other.”We just have one goal, to make it as far as we can.”
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Fans, players and coaches on both sides of Stubler Memorial Field seemed to know it would come down just the way it did, regardless of who had the ball at the end.