By PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Lady Rams are on the cusp of a milestone win mark as they face Cahokia tonight.
A win in the regular season finale at Changnon Gymnasium would give the team 20 victories for the first time since the 2003-04 season. That year also marked the last South Seven Conference title team. Mt. Vernon sewed up the conference crown last week with a win against Marion. Next week, Mt. Vernon aims at a regional championship.
“Twenty (wins) is a benchmark,” Mt. Vernon coach Jeff Lonnon said. “I think whenever you look at it in our specific circumstance it’s not only 20, but the last game of the regular season and it’s also an opportunity to go into the regional on a high note.”
Mt. Vernon’s season started with the return of several starters — Kelby Kujawa, Aaliyah Palmer and Haley Lockhart. The trio of seniors were joined by Hannah Owens, who was a solid contributor a season ago. Claire Ryan and Courtney Scarbrough were newcomers in the backcourt replacing veterans Cheyenne Piper and Jessica Green.
The Lady Rams opened with a second-place finish at the Nashville tournament. Mt. Vernon was dealt a serious setback when Lockhart, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a knee injury during a early December home game against Centralia. Lockhart briefly returned to the game, and the Lady Rams went on to win. But she missed the next several games before being ruled out for the season.
Without Lockhart on the court, Owens was pushed into a more prominent post role. Lockhart was the primary option to start the season, but after the injury Owens became Mt. Vernon’s top threat inside.
“The fact that Haley went down, that necessitated Hannah touching the ball several more times a game,” Lonnon said. “That has really been a big factor for us. Then when she has touched it, she has taken advantage of it.”
Throughout the season the Lady Rams have defended consistently as a group. That consistency has reflected in the team’s record. The Lady Rams haven’t lost three straight games all season. Only twice have they suffered two consecutive defeats.
The Lady Rams have allowed teams to score 50 or more points against them just four times. Mt. Vernon has held opponents to less than 35 points in 11 games and have won them all.
“The kids have bought into that,” Lonnon said. “Defense is no fun. It’s hard work. It’s not glamorous. It’s not glorious. It’s not often noticed by just the general fan.”
Not only have the Lady Rams guarded well, but they’ve done it without fouling excessively. The Lady Rams primarily rely on their starters for the bulk of the playing time.
“I think our technique is really good, and I think those are the types of little things that we work on in practice. We play defense with our feet. That’s how you play defense,” Lonnon said.
Tonight’s matchup starts at 6:15 p.m. with the junior varsity game. The team will celebrate senior night. Natalie Williamson along with Kujawa, Palmer and Lockhart will be honored.
“They’ve really set the tone for seniors to come, and that’s really what we needed” Lonnon said. “Because we went through a lull there where we didn’t even have any seniors three years ago.”