Dragons’ up-tempo pace freezes Stars

By Jeff Nations

NEW MARKET — Shenandoah Valley Academy’s girls basketball team took warm-up attire to the extreme on Thursday.

With the heating system on the fritz inside SVA’s gymnasium on another painfully cold day, the Stars did what they could to stay warm on the bench as they awaited their rotations into Thursday’s game against Stuart Hall — a ragged line of winter coats serving as makeshift blankets covered the Stars during the game..

There was symbolism in that image, to be sure, and not the good kind for the Stars. A frigid shooting performance combined with a flurry of turnovers helped the visiting Dragons race out to an early lead and roll to a 44-16 victory.

“We had an issue with our locker rooms — we diverted some of the heat to try and warm them up and it caused us to have a cold gym,” Stars coach Jeff Twomley said. “We’re going to have to undo that.”

There was no undoing the result of Thursday’s game, as Stuart Hall (11-1) simply raced past SVA and never slowed down. Twomley said the Dragons’ up-tempo attack factored into an unusually high number of turnovers for the Stars — 54 in all, including 31 in the first half.

“We hurt ourselves with easy turnovers,” Twomley said. “We had a lot of traveling calls, a lot of really easy passes that got stolen. We weren’t playing as a team. By the second half, it was a little too late by then, but we played much better than we did.”

Dragons coach Ronnie Nuckoles went to his bench early and often, starting in the first quarter as Stuart Hall built a 16-4 lead. Sydney Nuckoles had eight points during that initial surge and finished with 10 along with four steals.

Celeste Horton’s seven second-quarter points helped the Dragons boost their lead to 31-6 by the break. Horton finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

It wasn’t all perfect for the Dragons, though. That fast pace took a toll on them as well, as Stuart Hall finished with 34 turnovers. Ronnie Nuckoles said his team usually averages 10 to 12 per game.

“We had a lot more turnovers today than normal,” Nuckoles said. “They were getting too fast, playing too fast for themselves. I don’t know what they were doing — they made me mad, I can tell you that.”

The Stars outscored the Dragons in the third quarter, 5-4, thanks to a made free throw by Katheryn Savegnago and two straight driving baskets from Salima Omwenga. It was a rare burst of scoring for SVA (2-5), who are still rebuilding the program after graduating nine seniors two years ago. Last season, the Stars were winless.

“We struggle with getting the ball in the basket,” Twomley said. “We have some other issues that we’re working on, but as far as pure shooters we have to pound the ball inside.”

Karina Ruiz led SVA with five points, and Nathalia Barg added 14 rebounds.

Katie Hoover finished with 16 points to lead the Dragons, who got plenty of solid minutes from the bench.

“I think the bench really improved tonight,” Ronnie Nuckoles said. “They probably played as much as the starters did. I put a little bit of pressure on the starters and that might have had something to do with the turnovers, too. I told them they’d have limited time to produce what they needed to produce.”