The Jim Thorpe girls basketball team might be a fun team to watch, but they're certainly not a fun team to play.
Last night, Panther Valley found that out first-hand (again).
Led by Celeste Robinson and an unrelenting, in-your-face, "32-minutes of hell" pressure defense, the Lady Olympians cruised to their thirteenth win of the season with a 58-35 Schuylkill League Division 1 victory over the Panthers.
Robinson scored a season-high (and a TIMES NEWS area best) 36 points, while Jim Thorpe forced 36 Panther Valley turnovers.
"With our team, turnovers turn into points," stated Jim Thorpe head coach Rob Kovac. "We talked about it beforehand that if the game goes up and down, the advantage is to us, but if it's played slow and in a half-court, the advantage is to them.
"Fortunately, we were able to use defense to create offense, and when we're in transition, we're pretty darn good."
Robinson (averaging 25.7 points per game), scored the Olympians' first eight points of the game and scored 14 points in the opening quarter to propel Jim Thorpe to an 18-5 lead. In that stretch, the Panthers turned the ball over 12 times.
"I really thought we'd come out and have a little bit better performance than we did tonight," said Panther Valley head coach Josh Wank. "We were obviously prepared for their pressure, we just didn't handle it very well and that's the difference between a team that rotates six kids and a team that starts four underclassman. Jim Thorpe frustrated us early and our youth showed tonight."
Robinson added 10 more points in the second quarter to give her 24 in the first half. Chelsea Smelas accounted for the other seven points in the half, as Jim Thorpe led 31-16 at the break.
"After four years with Celeste, you kind of take for granted how special she is," added Kovac. "We've spent thousands of hours together now and she still surprises me sometimes with the display of athleticism she has."
"We haven't strung together defensive quarters like that in a while," noted Kovac of his team forcing 22 first half turnovers. "With playing them for the second time, we anticipated they'd probably try to throw over the top of our defense a little more. To combat that, we threw Celeste at half court and she must have had close to 15 steals."
Robinson scored her final 12 points in the third quarter, as Jim Thorpe maintained a 50-23 lead. With double-digit steals and 11 rebounds, Robinson recorded a "triple-double" in just three quarters of play.
"The thing about Celeste is that you can't really simulate her speed in practice and the way she elevates and does things," added Wank. "The best you can really do is put your kids in position and hope to try to contain her.
"Playing a team like Jim Thorpe can really take you out of your game plan. Tonight, we went with a three quarter court diamond and one and we're predominantly a man team. When we got in a half court set with them, I thought we did a good job of making her work for her points, but in transition, she killed us."
Smelas added nine points for the Olympians (13-1, 7-1), while Madison Blasko led Panther Valley (7-8, 0-7) with nine points.
In the JV game, Jim Thorpe was a 40-32 winner behind Nikki Ennis' 13 points.
McElmoyle 1-0-0-2, Batts 1-0-0-2, Lawrence 1-0-0-3, Condly 0-0-0-0, Binder 2-0-0-4, Rusbarsky 0-0-0-0, Robinson 14-8-10-36, Mosteller 0-2-2-2, Becker 0-0-0-0, Ennis 0-0-0-0, Smelas 4-1-2-9. TOTALS: 23-11-14-58.
Whildin 3-0-0-8, Madison Blasko 4-0-0-9, Kehrli 2-0-0-4, Jacobs 1-0-0-2, Smith 0-0-0-0, M. Markovich 1-0-0-2, Thomas 0-0-0-0, Paul 0-0-0-0, Rice 0-0-0-0, O. Markovich 1-0-0-2, Cunfer 1-0-0-2, Zlock 2-2-3-6. TOTALS: 15-2-3-35.
Jim Thorpe 18 13 19 8 - 58
Panther Valley 5 11 7 12 - 35
Three-Pointers: JT - Lawrence 1; PV - Whildin 2, Blasko 1.