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Eagle girls smoke Colton 61-27

by: Vern Uyetake, Amanda London looks to make a pass while on her knees in a game against Colton on Monday. Westside won the game to remain in first place in its league.

For most of Monday night's girls basketball game at Westside Christian High School, it looked like teams from different classifications were somehow scheduled to play against each other.

That wasn't meant as a knock against the visiting team from Colton. It was more a case that the ninth-ranked Westside Eagles were playing at a much higher level.

To be fair, Colton did manage to stay within striking distance for a while, although it's questionable whether a 35-18 deficit after three quarters can be referred to as staying within striking distance. But it was the fourth quarter that really separated the two teams.

During that final period, Westside outscored Colton 26-9, which turned the game into a 61-27 rout for the Eagles.

The biggest difference came on the front line, where Westside had a decided advantage. Leading the way was 5-foot-10 center Jessica Monroe, who would have been hard for anyone to stop. She poured in 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.

Monroe had plenty of help from two of her front-court mates. Forward Grace Wentzien had 12 points and 10 steals and Kate Conlin added 11 rebounds.

'Against a team like this we know we've got a little bit of size, so we try to pound it inside and give them an opportunity to score,' Westside coach Ryan Cruz said after the game.

'If they're not doubling and tripling down (on Monroe), which most teams do, then we'll try to take advantage of it,' the coach added.

When the middle gets clogged up, which didn't happen much against Colton, the Eagles have enough good outside shooters to make an opponent pay for its defensive strategy. Unfortunately, those shooters had a bit of an off night against the Lady Vikings. But it didn't matter because Monroe, Conlin and Wentzien were there to clean up most of the misses.

Then there's point guard Sarah Staropoli, who's deceptively quick. But her greatest asset is her ability to lob the ball over defenders, which leads to easy baskets for the front-court players.

'Tonight, Sarah did a good job of getting us into our offense,' Cruz said. 'And she gives us some good defensive pressure that allows us to score some transition buckets.'

Against Colton, it seemed everyone for Westside was playing the role of defensive specialist. The Vikings had trouble just setting up their offense, and they were often forced to take shots that probably weren't within their game plan.

That just led to one fast-break basket after another for the Eagles. When it wasn't Staropoli leading the break, it was usually Wentzien who was out front, mainly because she was the one who was picking up most of the steals.

Anyway you slice it, the Eagles were simply too tough for Colton to have much of a chance. In fact, any team that comes into Westside's undersized gym has a tough time staying with the Eagles. And they've been strong on the road as well.

'We have a target on our backs, being a top-10 team right now,' Cruz noted. 'And we hope to continue being that (team) and playing at the state level.'

Many of the players on this year's team also played on last year's squad that won a string of post-season games and had a nice showing at the state tournament. The goal this year to go even further at state.

'We definitely have a different personnel this year,' Cruz said. 'We're a lot more patient and we're much more team oriented.

'I think it's going to be a very special year for the team as a whole.'

Just how special can it be?

'Well, we hope to go all the way,' the coach said. 'We hope to be one of those contenders that can hopefully get out of the district tournament with a good seed and then hopefully upset somebody early (in the state tournament).'

Some people think the Eagles deserve a better ranking in state, but it really doesn't matter once the post-season starts.

'Our girls like to compete and if they show up ready to play, I think we can beat anybody in the state,' Cruz said.