Female Athlete of the Week: Generals’ Dellinger finds shooting stroke at right time

J.J. Dellinger Rich Cooley/Daily

QUICKSBURG – J.J. Dellinger knows that sometimes her shots just won’t fall on the basketball court. The Stonewall Jackson High School sophomore also knows that the best way to break out of a shooting slump is to keep firing.

So when Dellinger connected on just one of her first 12 shots attempts in the Generals’ girls basketball game against rival Strasburg last Thursday, she didn’t stop shooting.

She made her first 3-pointer of the night with six minutes remaining in the game, followed that with two more treys and erupted for 11 fourth-quarter points to rally Stonewall from an 11-point deficit in an eventual 46-45 overtime victory. She finished the game with a career high 17 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“I think the big thing is just getting your shot down,” Dellinger, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for Nov. 29-Dec. 5, said Tuesday. “I think I was shooting timid in the rest of the game. My feet weren’t set. I just wasn’t ready for the ball. So getting my feet set, finishing and following through (was important).”

Regarded as the team’s best shooter by head coach Jeff Burner, Dellinger scored just 2 points through the first three periods against Strasburg before her 3-pointer from the wing cut the Rams’ lead to 34-26 with 6:05 to play.

Three minutes later, Dellinger hit a baseline jumper and knocked down another trey from the wing on back-to-back possessions to pull Stonewall within 35-33 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Dellinger made four of her last six field goals in the game.

“She’s a streaky shooter,” Burner said, “and her form’s not the most natural or pretty looking but when she does get hot she can get hot.”

Dellinger’s biggest shot of the night came in the closing seconds of regulation, as she knocked down a game-tying 3-pointer from the right corner on a designed inbound play with 14 seconds remaining.

Dellinger, who also calmly hit all four of her free throws in the overtime period, said the key to coming through in clutch situations is to not let the magnitude of the moment get into her head.

“Panicking, you’re just gonna make more mistakes than not panicking,” Dellinger said, “so I’d rather take a confident shot than a panicked, terrible shot.”

And Dellinger’s impact in the victory wasn’t limited to her shooting. She also pulled down 10 rebounds, none bigger than her offensive board off a missed free throw with 23 seconds left in overtime with Stonewall clinging to a 3-point lead. The Generals capitalized on the extended possession when Kelsey Kokkonen hit a free throw with 15 seconds left to put Stonewall up 46-42, which proved to be the game winner as Strasburg’s Olivia Gochenour hit a 3-pointer as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“(Dellinger) has a real nose for the ball,” Burner said. “I think that also helps a lot too because I mean she rebounds well. I think she’s our leading rebounder right now. … She’s averaging a little over seven a game, almost eight.”

Dellinger, who holds the unique title as being the only General to have had a parent also play high school basketball for Burner, saw plenty of playing time at the varsity level as a freshman last season and said she’s learned to not be intimidated by older players.

Burner said all of Stonewall’s younger players are benefiting from similar experiences last winter.

“We had a really good off season too,” he said. “They were pretty religious about getting in here and doing the workouts and doing everything they needed to do, which I think helped them a lot, too. There’s real good chemistry with this group too, so hopefully that’ll keep up and those type of things, and maybe (we can) play above ourselves a little bit.”

Stonewall Jackson (3-2) had won just three combined games in the previous two years but matched that total last week by starting this season 3-0, also notching wins over Rappahannock County and Madison County (Dellinger scored 5 points in each of those victories).

Dellinger said the Generals’ biggest goal is to show improvement at the end of the season.

“Winning games is good but we just wanna get better as a team,” she said.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com