Dateline: Atlanta, GA. In the opening round of AAC Varsity Women’s play, the sixth seed Lady Cougars drew the unenviable task of matching up with the athletic and ever-physical Lady Panthers of Atlanta Area School. “Frankly, for the last two seasons, AAS has feasted on us. In our defense, we faced them at less than full strength in our meetings this year, but their physicality definitely puts us on defensive footing from the get go. All of last week, we practiced how to mix it up with them first, and to wrest that decided physical advantage away from them. Tonight we know that we are ready,” promised Coach Cutchin prior to the tip off. At first, it looked like AAS could run away with the game from the get go. Unveiling a re-tooled press in the opening possessions, the Lady Panthers put up nine quick points. The Cougars burned a couple of early time outs to right the ship, and at last stopped the bleeding. Eighth grade phenomenon Ellie Rappoport finally got TCS on the board will a follow off of a textbook weak-side offensive rebound.
“Nobody should underscore the importance of that basket,” noted Assistant Coach Bidlack. “We just solved the press, but still produced nothing tangible on the scoreboard. After that first hoop the area felt our spirits rise.” When the first frame ended, AAS enjoyed a nine-point edge, but one significantly closer than its customary double-digit advantages after a quarter of play. Without generating turnovers from the press, AAS found themselves engaged in a halfcourt game of slog ball against their conference rivals. Significantly, the Lady Panthers found it difficult to work the ball into the paint with their accustomed ease, while Cottage battled them evenly on the boards. Hannah Walker connected on a field goal, while Pamela struck three times on daring drives to the hoop.
At the halftime intermission, a clearly frustrated AAS only claimed a 16 – 10 lead. “During the half we discussed fine tuning our offensive sets, and the absolute need to maintain our physical play,” recalled Molleah Holder. When the action started Lalo snuck away for another hoop, narrowing the gap to four points. At that point, disaster struck in the form of two controversial calls, both of which went against Hannah Walker. Drawing her fourth and fifth personal foul of the evening, Walker was forced to watch the final 13 minutes of the game from the bench. “I never use officiating as an alibi,” explained Coach Cutchin, “but Walker’s disqualification really put our back to the wall. She effectively spearheaded our defensive effort, kept us even on the boards, and used her ball handling skills as effectively as she ever had during a game in her career.”
Sensing their advantage, AAS redoubled their attack, returning to the press, and throwing bodies to contest every rebound with reckless abandon. “We did not roll over, and we sure did not mail it in, but from that point forward we just did not have the guns to keep up with their relentless pressure,” opined Coach Bidlack. When the final horn sounded AAS survived with a 32 – 13 victory. Despite the final score, the TCS brain trust felt the team gained a great deal from the experience. “We established for the first time in two years that we can play effectively and physically against large, athletic teams. No one in the stands came away from that game characterizing us as cowering, scared or overmatched. We demonstrated to ourselves that following a game plan does reap results, and we also learned (with Hannah’s forced exit) that we could improvise and execute on the fly. In all, our team established that we can compete against conference competition in these last three games. We plan on having everyone back next season, and we feel strongly that the best is yet to come,” summarized Coach Cutchin.
Molleah Holder flew out of her sick bed to play virtually the entire game. Holder ran herself ragged shoring up the perimeter defense, while also tying the ball up twice and collaring two rebounds. Molleah also ran the court effectively, getting back on defense to short circuit the vaunted AAS fast break. . . Elizabeth Lindsay was forced to play most of the second half under the most trying of circumstances, as the replacement for the do–everything Ms. Walker. Lindsay kept the slashing Lady Panther wings at bay, while mixing it up in pursuit of rebounds and loose balls. . .Emory Shulse played her finest game of the season. Although light from a statistical standpoint (5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 monster blocked shot), anyone watching the game could see how thoroughly Emory dominated the paint, how well she ran the floor, and upon the disqualification, how she turned on the ball handling skills she never unveiled in a game time setting before. . .Hannah Walker tallied only two points, but attacked the basket with her driving in a sustained manner. Her presence on defense helped to freeze out AAS from their preferred perch in the paint, while her nose for the ball netted a steal, six rebounds and two big blocked shots. . .Ellie Rappoport made her presence felt against the Redwoods of AAS, commanding attention with a game high 12 rebounds, while also scoring two points and adding a steal. Like the rest of the TCS frontcourt, Rappoport demonstrated great poise and focus in keeping AAS out of the paint. . .Pamela Lalo capped off the season with a command performance, kicking in nine points, grabbing 8 rebounds, knocking the ball loose for four steals, and also recording a blocked shot. Had Coach Cutchin let her, Lalo could have led the concession stand in items sold, and tickets taken as well.