Story by Neil Noonan/MCAC
|Rebels guard Zera Lynn Panesa / HEIDI MARTENS|
Both teams got off to a slow start Saturday afternoon going scoreless in the games first few minutes, but the Blazers started to find some rhythm ending the first quarter up 15-9.
The second quarter belonged to the Rebels point guard Zera Lynn Panesa as she started to be aggressive, attack the paint, and get to the line. This led to more open perimeter shots for her teammates that started to fall. The Rebels put up a 23-point second quarter, led by Panesa’s 15, and went into the break up 32-30.
The Blazers came out of halftime with a plan and you could tell a noticeable shift in their defence in the third quarter.
We really tried to take them away from shooting threes,” said Blazers head coach Joe Di Curzio. “They were unbelievable, so we just tried to make it tougher for them to shoot.”
They started to implement a soft full-court trapping defence that slowed Panesa and the Rebels down just enough. The Blazers size was a huge factor. Their long arms disrupted passing lanes while their height gave them a big advantage in the paint.
On the offensive end, first-year guard Shirliz Apiyo (11 points) provided a spark off the bench, hitting back to back threes just minutes into her first shift of the second half.
“Shirliz came in and was unbelievable for us,” said Di Curzio. “She was absolutely spectacular.”
|Blazers guard Shirliz Apiyo / HEIDI MARTENS|
This was when the Blazers really started to pull away. Their captain, Jessica Marx-Houndle, started to really put her stamp on the game during the run. She was their vocal leader on the defensive end and their playmaker on the offensive end.
“We’re a great group of girls,” said Marx-Houndle, “we’re all really close this year so that definitely helped us on the court.”
Despite Panesa’s game-high 30 points, the Blazers took an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and never looked back. Caitlin Fennel (13 points), Kiara Rongavilla (12 points), and Julia Schatkowsky (9 points, 8 rebounds) were critical parts in the Blazers victory, but Marx-Houndle earned herself MVP honours by playing a spirited, well-rounded game (9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists).
“When the buzzer went off I was still nervous,” said Marx-Houndle. “Is this real? Is this happening?”
The Blazers ran off with their first women’s basketball championship since 2010 with a 70-55 that put an end to the Rebels six-straight finals wins.
Both teams head into the week preparing for the 2018 NIAC Basketball Tournament next weekend in at Candeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten, North Dakota.
The fourth-seeded Rebels will take on the Providence Pilots at 9:45AM on Thursday, while the third-seeded Blazers will take on the Turtle Mountain Mighty Mickinocks at 12:30PM.