JOHNSBURG — Soon after Johnsburg suffered a stunning upset loss to Marengo just over a week ago, Skyhawks' coach Ashley Arff introduced a new defensive drill at team practices.
Arff instructed her players to tie a sweatshirt around their waists, with both arms of the sweatshirt sticking out to each side. Players were then told to hold each end of the sweatshirt's arms, and to extend their arms to their sides while doing so.
The reason? Arff wanted her players to become quicker guarding the ball with their feet, rather than relying on their arms or hands to pressure shooters. During the drill, players aren't allowed to use their hands at all.
The results thus far have been outstanding. The Skyhawks held Harvard to just 12 points the entire game following the Marengo loss, and Tuesday night, their defense shined again during a 59-29 Kishwaukee River Conference victory over Richmond-Burton.
Johnsburg (5-3, 2-1 KRC) forced the Rockets (1-7, 0-3) to miss 13 of their first 15 shot attempts, and allowed just seven made field goals all game. R-B was 3 for 29 in the first half, and 7 for 51 (13.7 percent) all night.
"My philosophy is 'Defense wins championships,' " Arff said. "The other thing I emphasize is how we react when we do make a mistake. If you turn the ball over, you better hustle back on defense and try to redeem yourself. Effort is something that's completely under our own control at all times.
"We also do box-out and rebounding drills where it's one girl against five. It's about us controlling all the little things. Because there will be times our shots aren't falling, and when that happens, guess what? It'll be hustle and defensive effort that bails us out or keeps us in games."
Johnsburg outrebounded R-B, 48-25, including 19-8 on the offensive glass. Even 5-foot-1 sophomore starting guard Kaitlyn Owen got in on the action, with six rebounds and four steals.
"When Kaitlyn first got here, she seemed a little intimidated to go in the lane against players who are all much bigger than her," Arff said. "That's changed in a huge way. She's so scrappy, and becoming a big factor for us."
Meanwhile, junior Megan Madsen, who had a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds, also had four steals.
"We're a whole different team when we play hard and hustle all the time," Madsen said. "It allows us to put pressure on the other team, and leads to a lot of turnovers and points in transition, which you saw tonight."
Megan's twin sister, Morgan Madsen, followed her sibling's lead and was also one board shy of a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds, four assists). Forward Kayla Stefka (12 points, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) tallied all her points in the first quarter, then got in foul trouble in the second half, along with Megan Madsen. It allowed Arff to give her bench some extra playing time.
"It's huge to be able to get our bench significant minutes when we can, because we are going to need them to step up if we want to evolve as a team and a program, now and in the future," Arff said.
R-B was led by Kasey Miller's 10 points, while Kinsley Johnson had a team-best eight rebounds.
"We only have two seniors in our entire program," R-B coach Stephanie Oslovich said. "And whether we're up 30 or down 30, I see nothing but positive attitudes from these girls. Our issue isn't attitude or effort. It's improving on limiting turnovers, playing smarter, and just improving from game to game. I'm seeing signs of all those things lately, despite what the score showed tonight."
STAR OF THE GAME
Megan Madsen, Johnsburg, jr., G
Madsen was a jack-of-all-trades, scoring a game-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds, four steals and three assists.
41: The number of combined points Johnsburg has allowed in its past two games. The Skyhawks gave up 29 to R-B, and just 12 to Harvard the game prior.
AND ANOTHER THING …
"Even though she only had four points, I can't emphasize enough how important senior Heather Arden has been to this team," Johnsburg coach Ashley Arff said.
Johnsburg 59, Richmond-Burton 29
Johnsburg 26 12 13 8 – 59
Richmond-Burton 7 8 7 7 – 29
RICHMOND-BURTON (29): Miller 4 1-2 10, Bannon 2 0-6 6, Malec 1 2-2 4, Johnson 0 2-4 2, Hogan 0 2-2 2, Kildahl 0 2-2 2, Wzientek 0 1-2 1, Otto 0 1-2 1, Hayden 0 1-2 1, Wagner 0 0-0 0, Abate 0 0-0 0, Suhr 0 0-0 0. Totals: 7 12-24 29.
JOHNSBURG (59): Megan Madsen 7 4-4 20, Stefka 5 2-2 12, Morgan Madsen 5 0-0 10, Arden 2 0-0 4, Davis 2 0-0 4, Owen 1 2-4 4, Ward 1 0-0 3, Fritz 1 0-0 2, Metze 0 0-0 0, Straulin 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 8-10 59.
3-point field goals: Johnsburg 5 (Megan Madsen 2, Ward), Richmond-Burton 3 (Bannon 2, Miller).
Total team fouls: Johnsburg 20, Richmond-Burton 9. Technical fouls: Richmond-Burton, uniform violation, 5:25 of 4th quarter.
Fouled out: None.