By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
PROPHETSTOWN, Ill. —
In sports, people like statistics; things that can be quantified, such as points.
But the Prophetstown girls basketball team attributes it success this year to something that isn’t so easily counted — defense.
"That has been the key," Prophetstown coach Don Robinson said. "We're pretty good ball-handlers and we're game smart. We can shoot if we're given space. But the whole key to all that is defense. The defense is No. 1."
The Prophets (17-2) are at their best when they force turnovers and get out in transition.
"We're not a very tall team, but that means we're a pretty quick team," senior guard Cassie Reiley said. "We like to run and gun and force turnovers. It's better percentage shooting from 2 feet than from 15 feet, and we can get those shots in transitions. It's nice to force turnovers and get those easy shots. That's my favorite part of the game, run and gun and forcing turnovers."
Prophetstown has excelled defensively because it spends time on it.
"We work on that every day in practice," Reiley said. "We have a few drills that replicate the game experience."
Not only is time set aside each day for defensive work, but Robinson makes it the top priority.
"The first half-hour of practice everyday is defensive drills," Robinson said. "Mostly it's: try to turn them to their bad hand; if they dribble, try to pinch so they can't get dribble-penetration; and then try to get helpside and have other people rotate over. Those are our main focus."
It’s rare for the Prophets to match up again a team that works as hard as they do on the defensive end or has as many players diving for loose balls.
“We’ve got a pretty short team, so we have to beat people by outhustling them,” senior forward Riley Walters said.
At 5-feet, 8-inches tall, Walters is one of the taller girls on Prophetstown’s roster. Sophomore Clare Kramer is the tallest starter at 5-9. The two of them are often tasked with stopping an opponent’s dominant post player.
“We usually play teams that are bigger than us,” Kramer said. “So we have to double-down (with guards) and play helpside. I usually front a post player and Riley comes from behind to try to jump with her.”
Kramer — with help from Walters and the guards — held Orion star 6-0 center Cassidy Clark to six points in a game Friday, and that’s just one example of them stopping taller players.
“We’re used to it by now,” Walters said. “We’ve been playing against bigger kids. It’s a lot of teamwork and help defense.”
Kramer and Walters need to work well together to limit the effectiveness of much taller players.
“We have to be like spider monkeys going back and forth,” Kramer said.
But the defense all starts farther away from the basket, where the Reiley sisters — Cassie and Corrie, a sophomore — wreak havoc on opposing ball-handlers. The two of them don’t give opposing guards any space to dribble. The sisters either get steals or force sloppy passes that a teammate can intercept.
“Coach always says have a 6-foot rule, but he says for me to have a 2-foot rule,” Corrie Reiley said. “I always grew up playing man, like really close, because that’s how you win games, defense.”
Those two also have to work together on the perimeter to force the most turnovers. Prophetstown forced 28 in that win over Orion and 27 the day before against West Carroll. A lot of that takes some gambling.
“A lot of guards spin, so I can read the girl (Cassie is guarding) spinning,” Corrie Reiley said. “I come up on the other side and go for the ball. If I miss it, she’ll just take my girl. We can tell when to do it because we’ve been playing with each other for so long.”
Cassie Reiley said, “We have sister telepathy.”
The key to their defense is working together and knowing they can rely on their teammates.
"We know when we force someone one way, a teammate is going to be there to help," Cassie Reiley said. "We know we can count on each other to pick the slack up. If we get beat, then a teammate is going to be there to pick you up. We can play tough defense all the time and not be afraid, 'Oh my man is going to score if I go help here,' because we have good rotation."
Prophetstown takes pride in its defense and is off to a great start in large part because of it. As well as the Prophets play defensively, the toughest defense of the night might take place before the games start when the Reiley sisters warm up by dribbling against the defense of the other. There’s no referees to call hand-checking or anything of that nature then, either.
“How you warm up is really how you play,” Corrie Reiley said. “It’s going to make her a better dribble when I shove her and play how I play. And it’s fun going at her.”