By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- A week that opened on a real down note just got better and better for Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy sophomore Samantha Yarnall.
Last Tuesday, the Patriots came out with one of their flattest efforts in a season to lose 59-50 on the road to Musselman (W.Va.). No matter that the Applemen are a Class AAA public high school -- the Patriots had expected to beat them, having done so already earlier in the season by a 43-17 score.
"We definitely had a very slow game and they improved a lot," Yarnall said. "I think a major thing is we came in too cocky, we really did. And that hurt us a lot."
Maybe Musselman did the Patriots a favor. With little time to sulk over that loss, SVCA had to open play in the Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) North Region tournament the very next day. With Yarnall scoring eight points to spearhead a 22-2 run to open the game, the Patriots roared past Grace Christian for a 56-22 semifinal round victory.
SVCA had to play its third game in three days against visiting Stuart Hall in the regional championship, but Yarnall and the Patriots showed few ill effects from that heavy workload as they clinched the title with a 49-33 victory. Yarnall, The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week for Feb. 16-Feb. 22.
The sophomore forward tallied a team-high 12 points along with five rebounds and five steals in the championship against Stuart Hall, flashing her all-around impact for the Patriots.
Yarnall was at it again in Tuesday's VACA state quarterfinals, simply taking over by piling up 18 points and nine rebounds by halftime to help the Patriots put Timberlake Christian away early in an eventual 53-18 victory.
"She has that ability," Patriots coach Lauren Culler said. "She's one of those players that you don't see very often at our small Christian high school that can just about play any position if she had to. She can handle the ball, she can drive to the basket, she can assist -- she shares very well."
The stats bear that out -- Yarnall leads SVCA in scoring (15 points per game) and rebounding (8.3 rpg), while ranking a close second to teammate Hannah McGann in both steals (4.2 per game) and assists (three per game).
Yarnall capped her impressive week by being honored as a VACA first-team all-state selection, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the North Region.
"She's a talented young lady," Culler said. "She's very athletic, she's very dedicated to the game and she works hard at it."
Yarnall does most of her damage in the lane for the Patriots as a perpetual menace to drive and shoot or dish it off to a teammate.
"My favorite thing is driving," Yarnall said. "I don't have the nice outside shot that I'd like to, so I just play on my strengths right now and that's what I have."
Despite a size disadvantage much of the time, Yarnall more than holds her own in the frontcourt as a super-active small forward.
"I know I'm not that tall -- I'm only 5-7, but I'm very comfortable playing big and being physical in the paint," Yarnall said. "I do everything I can to get open and be a rock in there."
The Patriots move on to play Westover Christian in Friday's VACA state semifinals at Ridgeview Christian in Stuarts Draft. Yarnall, a member of the Patriots' state champion squad last season, thinks her team has shaken off the rough stretch that slowed them earlier this season and is again playing solid basketball.
"We really hit a gap a few weeks ago," Yarnall said. "We lost a lot of momentum from some snow days. We didn't practice for a week or a week and a half and lost a lot of stuff that we'd planned to pick up. But we've been doing better and we're working on it."