ARCOLA — Samantha Reece is having a ball. So is her team.
Collectively, they are sharing in the pleasures of a basketball.
From one player to another. And back. Again and again.
It’s a frequent and efficient passing pattern that’s leading to success and fun times in Nancy Stiff’s 41st year as Arcola’s high school girls’ basketball coach.
“In practice, we have shooting drills to get our shots,” Reece said. “We work on passing, not forcing anything, looking for the open look. She wants us to make sure we know where our options will be.”
Ten games into the season, it’s proving to be a formula for success.
The Purple Riders (8-2) scored the first 14 points Thursday night and held Little Okaw Valley Conference foe Villa Grove/Heritage scoreless for the opening 11 minutes, 16 seconds in a 44-20 triumph.
“Passing is something we work on every night,” Stiff said, “getting the kids to throw stronger passes. Sometimes in practice we tell them ‘no shots until you’ve reversed the ball five times.’ We’re still a project in the works.”
Reece scored a game-high 12 points and Taylor Edwards had a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds) as Arcola stayed unbeaten in the LOVC.
“They’re tremendous athletes and strong enough to make good throws,” VG/Heritage coach Dan Sappenfield said.
Arcola is picking up where it left off last season.
“There’s a lot of chemistry, and we all work together,” Reece said.
“Last year, we were starting to get to that point.”
Stiff said what makes the plan so effective is the quality of players on the team.
“We pass well, and we have a lot of track stars on the team. Not just athletes, but track stars who like to run,” Stiff said. “Why not let them run? We have six or seven kids who can score.”
The passing proficiency plays into another strength of Stiff-coached teams: strong defense. The Blue Devils made 30.7 percent of their shots from the field in a game in which they had more turnovers than field goal attempts (29-26).
“This is a fun team to coach,” said Stiff, whose squad is the No. 1 seed for next week’s Dieterich Tournament. “Defensively, we play pretty well.”
Alexis Conlin grabbed nine rebounds for Arcola, which held a 32-20 edge on the boards.
Sophomore point guard Rylee Fishel hit 3 of 6 shots and directed an offense that had only four first-half turnovers while building a 22-5 lead at intermission.
Sappenfield is thankful for the first-year co-op between Villa Grove and Heritage. He has 16 girls playing basketball, eight from each high school.
“We wouldn’t have had programs, not full varsity and JV, without us going together,” Sappenfield said. “It’s a growing process, but it’s awesome. The kids get along great.
“We’d love to win more, but we’re trying to build from the bottom up.”
Alana Campbell led the Blue Devils (3-7) with six points. Parkland College softball recruit Alix Ezell led the team with four rebounds. Ezell and teammate Becky Bishop accounted for the game’s only three-pointers.
“Most of our girls are young,” Sappenfield said.
“We only have two seniors. I’m very happy with the transition. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”