WHITEHALL – The beginning of a transformation took place at Whitehall High School on Saturday night.
The Trojan girls’ basketball team not unveiled a new approach as well as a new look in its 46-41 win over Manhattan Christian.
The boys’ team picked up where it left off from a year ago, handing the Eagles a 71-52 defeat to complete the sweep.
Wyatt Alexander and Max Feight scored 32 and 25 points, respectively, to account for 57 of Whitehall’s points and outscore the entire Manhattan Christian team.
While Zach McLean watched his boys’ team coast to its first win of the season, new girls’ coach, Kelly Nieskens couldn’t get quite as comfortable. He watched his team battle to the final seconds, despite its opening up a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“This year we have a whole different team,” said Whitehall junior Dorothy Mastell, who spent the better part of the 24 minutes battling against a trio of Manhattan Christian players who measured in a 6-feet. “Our team is very, very young but they want to change this program.
“The program in the past has had a losing mindset so I think that these younger girls want to come in here and work really, really hard to change it. I think that’s what we’re going to do this year. I think we’re putting in the work and it’s going to have a good outcome.”
Both girls’ teams struggled on offense in the first quarter but that didn’t seem to concern Nieskens. He knew that the shots would eventually start to fall.
The same could be said for the Eagles, who brought a talented squad into Whitehall, only to come up short on would normally be high-percentage shots.
Kelsey Heidema led Manhattan Christian with 18 points and teammate Alex Veltkamp added 10 but the Eagles weren’t able to match the offensive firepower of Whitehall’s Asha Noyes.
Noyes was the spark plug that the Trojans needed, playing strong defense and finding a way to produce points. She finished with a game-high 26 points.
But despite the efforts of Noyes’ offense and Mastell’s rebounding, the third phase of the game came up big for Whitehall in the second half. That was when defense came into play.
The Trojans led by two points at halftime and were able to stretch their lead to seven by the end of the third quarter. A 7-1 run early in the fourth quarter, which was capped by Britney Welker’s 3-point basket, gave the Trojans a 38-28 lead with 5:40 to play. Welker had been hit in the face and had her nose bloodied in the process moments before unleashing the 3-pointer from the left wing.
The Eagles responded by turning up the pressure on offense and defense, and the Trojans again proved that they were not going to repeat the habits of the past. This time they held on despite watching their lead shrink to three points with 1:05 to play.
The Trojans kept the Eagles off of the scoreboard the rest of the way, shutting them out in their final four possessions.
“Defense is something we’re going to take pride in this year and you saw bits and pieces of that (Saturday,” Nieskens said. “We’ll get our looks offensively. Their press gave us a little bit of trouble but later in the game when you’re tired you have mental breakdowns. We were able to handle it at the very end and that’s the most important part.
“Everything has been new for us this year as far as the structure of what we’ve got going on so I wanted to see the girls compete. We wanted to see where we’re at and what we can build on.”
The Whitehall boys’ team has its own list of things to improve upon, despite how good it looked in Saturday’s win.
Alexander and Feight led the charge out of the gate by combining to score the Trojans’ first 13 points. Whitehall led, 18-9, after the first quarter and doubled that margin (41-23) by the time the buzzer ended the second.
Manhattan Christian did a good job of controlling the ball early but simply had trouble getting the ball into the basket. The Eagles did start to find their range as the game progressed but the deficit was simply too much.
Caleb Bellach scored 17 points to lead the Eagles.