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Published: March 02, 2010 10:48 pm  


By Nate Beutel
Niagara Gazette

GRAND ISLAND — There’s an old-school thought that defense wins championships. Well, then consider Jen Banker old school.

“You never know if the ball is going to go in or not on any given night, but you can always play defense,” the veteran Grand Island coach said Tuesday as her team prepared for tonight’s clash with Williamsville East for the Class A-1 championship. GI is the defending champion, while the Flames are the top seed in the bracket.

That same message has trickled down to Banker’s players, including reigning Niagara Gazette Player of the Year Kallie Banker.

“Defense wins games,” the point guard said. “If you don’t make shots you can still stop teams and stay in games.”

That’s a philosophy the elder Banker, a former coach at both the Division I and III college levels, has ingrained into the minds of hundreds of players through the years. But for some reason or another, that message didn’t click with this group until adversity struck.

About midway through the season, the Vikings lost Kristin Wegrzyn and Jamie Raepple to season-ending injuries and then dropped games to Lockport and Kenmore East in the second half of the Niagara Frontier League slate because of what Banker termed “horrendous defense.”

Then about two weeks ago things began to fall into place for GI.

“We now realize what each person’s role is, particularly on defense,” junior Danielle Wegrzyn said, while noting that the group has begun to excel with its communication and helpside defense.

The younger Banker added, “We’ve found our niches now. We’re really playing well together. We realize that defense is our spark.”

The hope is that that trend continues tonight against a Flames squad that has one of the area’s top guards in Becca Rumschik and is led by former Wilson coach Larry Lash.

“I know it’s repetitive, but defense is the key,” coach Banker said. “From what I saw they’re pretty quick, so we’ve got to keep them in front and box out.”

From there, the Vikings will look to get their transition game going, according to Wegrzyn.

“We’re focused on getting that rebound, so we can get it out quick and get layups,” she said, while referencing GI’s game-changing third-quarter run against Kenmore East in the semifinals.

Contact reporter Nate Beutel at 282-2311, ext. 2262.