Considering it has no players taller than 5-foot-10, the DeSales girls basketball team has leaned heavily on guard play all season.
But throughout the second half of a 43-30 win at Ready on Jan. 23, the Stallions' inside players made a huge difference.
Early in the third quarter, forward Stefanie Karras made an inbound pass directly to forward Gracie Sabo, who was fouled while making the ensuing layup and completed the three-point play to give DeSales a 21-10 lead.
Sabo later made a layup to break a 5-0 run for the Silver Knights and restore a 10-point lead for the Stallions, and with 4 minutes, 55 seconds left scored another layup off an outlet pass to make it 33-23. Just 34 seconds later, an inbounds play that was identical to that from the third quarter worked again for a 12-point lead that effectively sealed the win.
Sabo, a 5-9 junior in her first year as a starter, also took her seventh charge of the season during the game. Such contributions are exactly what Sabo expected from herself and what coach Erick Herzberg hoped to see as he continues to implement his system in his first season at DeSales.
"Being a starter, you need up to step up sooner and set the tone. It's big and important," Sabo said. "We're learning that every team is different. You always have to be ready and prepared for whatever happens.
"Everyone is working together and sharing the ball. We're keeping our heads up, paying attention and knowing what's going on."
Sabo had a game-high 16 points at Ready, one of the few games this season in which DeSales has held a size advantage. Earlier this season, the Stallions had to defend, among other standouts, 6-4 center Jordan Lantz of Delaware, 6-3 freshman Ella Brandewie of Hartley and 6-0 center Lauren Denison of Watkins Memorial.
The Stallions were 10-7 overall before playing Groveport on Jan. 28 and are 1-2 in the CCL entering a Thursday, Jan. 30, game at Hartley.
"All season, they've been improving game-by-game and we need that," Herzberg said. "They've been working hard on being effective in the post and with their low-post offense.
"We work on boxing out every practice and I think they've bought into a lot of stuff we are doing. On defense, we have five bodies going for the ball every possession and that's paying dividends. The girls just have a tough attitude. Those things are a part of our culture now. They are tough and they want to see what we can do going down the stretch."
Katie Schuler, a 5-10 senior, and Sabo are the team's starting forwards. In addition to Karras (5-9), others seeing time inside are senior Kaylee Green (5-8), junior Adrian Lowery (5-8), sophomore Ava Roby (5-9) and the only freshman on varsity, Jadyn Arnold (5-7).
Sabo was averaging 8.2 points through 14 games.
"She's been really good in her role, catching the ball high and keeping it high and getting baskets underneath," Schuler said. "She has improved her jump shot so much. When you're driving in and she's off to the side, you can dish it to her and she has a great touch."
DeSales will try for its second CCL win against Hartley, which would exceed its 1-5 record in the league from a year ago.
"Our losses recently have been close losses," Herzberg said. "I like where we are. If we can get some quality CCL wins, maybe we can set ourselves up for some success in the (Division I district) tournament."
McInerney, Ruff lead swimmers at CCL meet
Brady McInerney's win in the boys 500-yard freestyle (5 minutes, 1.49 seconds) led the swimming teams at the CCL meet Jan. 25 at St. Charles.
McInerney also placed third in the 50 free (22.58) and was on the second-place 200 free relay (1:38.21) with Wyatt Hanley, Will Jordan and Aaron Spittell and runner-up 200 medley relay (1:49.84) with Reece Hanley, Wyatt Hanley and Spittell, as DeSales scored 228 points to finish second behind St. Charles (441) and ahead of Hartley (162) and Watterson (83).
The Cardinals won their 22nd consecutive league title.
Wyatt Hanley placed second in both the 100 backstroke (59.86) and 200 free (2:00.03), Spittell was third in both the 200 individual medley (2:18.68) and 100 butterfly (1:03.77) and the 400 free relay of Reece Hanley, Jordan, Noah Pugh and Leo Sears was second (4:08.99).
The girls team finished third (206) in the CCL meet behind Watterson (414) and Hartley (360) and ahead of Ready (33).
Libby Ruff placed second in the 500 free (5:38) and third in the 200 free (2:08.95) and was on the runner-up 200 free (1:51.58) and 400 free (4:08.77) relays.
Ashley Anderson, Annamarie DeGuzman and Lydia Letzelter rounded out the 200 free relay. DeGuzman and Letzelter also were on the 400 free relay, as was Kaitlyn Schaefer.
"(Those relays) dropped a lot of time from their seed time and all had best times. That was huge," coach Ryan Buechner said. "That surprised me a lot. They came out of nowhere for that. The Hanley brothers definitely had a great day, especially being freshmen. They had nice turnarounds."
Cua continues to lead gymnasts
While sophomore Gianna Cua is continuing a dominant season for the gymnastics team, coach Misty Lloyd-Matthews is equally impressed with the development of the rest of her team, including two other sophomores and two freshmen.
"I'm very impressed with them," Lloyd-Matthews said. "Having freshmen walk in with very little background and seeing them improve is always great to see as a coach. Of course, like every year, we're fighting little injuries here and there. That makes it hard, but they just keep plugging away. Mykaella (Romain) is better than ever as a senior and (sophomore) Cidney (Barron) is healthy."
Other key contributors have included sophomore Lauren Mahle and freshmen Michayla Northrup and Alex Shaw.
"We have more depth this season," Lloyd-Matthews said. "We were lucky to count four scores at times last year, but we have this year and we're constantly improving."
Cua had won the all-around in four meets before competing in the Warhawk Invitational on Jan. 24 at Westerville Central.
Below are the coming schedules for the DeSales boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, hockey and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 31 -- Home vs. Ready. The Stallions defeated the Silver Knights 63-54 on Dec. 20.
Feb. 1 -- Home vs. Grove City
*Jan. 30 -- At Hartley. The Stallions lost to the Hawks 47-17 on Jan. 9.
Feb. 1 -- Home vs. Hilliard Bradley
*Jan. 31 -- Ready at Game of Western Columbus
Feb. 1 -- Washington Court House Miami Trace at Trics Gymnastics Academy
*Jan. 31 -- Olentangy Berlin at Chiller North
*Feb. 1 -- Thomas Worthington at Chiller Easton
Feb. 1 -- Jimmy Wood Invitational at New Lexington
Feb. 5 -- At Columbus Academy with Bloom-Carroll