MORRISTOWN _ Stifling defense that produces steals has been Villa Walsh's mainstay this season.
The Vikings, of course, continued with that formula for success, using man-to-man full-court pressure to rattle 10th-seeded St. Mary of Rutherford en route to a 70-23 victory in its Non-Public North B state tournament first-round game on Tuesday, Feb. 27.
"Our defense is the biggest part of our game," said junior forward Mary Cate McGlone, whose 14 point and 6 steals paced Villa Walsh. "We work hard on running different defenses. We switch in and out of them and follow up on the other end as well."
Villa Walsh, seeded seventh, had a season-high 29 steals to go along with a season-high amount of points. The Vikings (14-11) went up 22-9 in the first quarter led by McGlone and Kate Gehringer, who had eight points apiece. The lead was gained despite some opening-round jitters.
"The girls were a bit nervous out of the chute," Villa Walsh coach Van Johnson said. "We were missing easy shots. Once we settled down, everything went well."
And, the defense wasn't all that was impressive. In addition to McGlone, Caroline Dolan and Gehringer reached double figures, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively. Mary Walsh added seven. Walsh and Michelle Zychowski had five steals apiece for the Vikings (14-11). The junior varsity players entered the game in the fourth period and put up 19 points which pleased Johnson.
McGlone and Johnson both felt that the second period, in which Villa Walsh outscored St. Mary 17-2 was critical and enabled it to open a wide gap going into halftime.
"We came out strong in the second quarter," McGlone said. "Sometimes, the first quarter is a rough patch for us. In the second quarter, we began to play really well and went all out for the whole game."
The Vikings, slated to meet the No. 2 seed, Hudson Catholic, in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 1 at 5:30 p.m., swiped pass after pass and interrupted the flow of the Gaels' offense.
"We work really hard for them," McGlone said of the steals. "We use a lot of trap defenses and that helps."
The game brought second-year coach St. Mary coach Jamie LoBue back to a familiar place. LoBue, a graduate of West Morris High School, where she played basketball, served as a junior varsity and assistant coach at Villa Walsh for six years.
"It was a little weird," said McGlone of LoBue being on the other side. "It was weird hearning her yelling on the sideline. It takes you back."
St. Mary (8-16) was paced by Jensen Kraft's 15 points and four rebounds.
Villa Walsh is 5-2 over its last seven games. Its two losses in that span were to Pope John by two points and Mount St. Mary by seven.
Hudson Catholic will pose a major challenge but the Vikings are certain they will be prepared.
"We're facing a very good team," Johnson said. "My hope is we execute as well as we did against St. Mary."
McGlone is thinking upset. She noted that the sophomores have been making significant contributions in recent games.
"We have some pretty big wins," McGlone said. "This team is like a family. We have good chemistry. There's a sense of community. Hudson Catholic will be tough but our team never gives up, even if we're down by 15 or 20."
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