Strong team defense of any variety can be the fuel to vault a basketball team to victory and in the case of the season opener for the Cuyahoga Falls girls squad — it was a pressing up-tempo defense that led that charge.
Falls used a pressing and trapping defense to defeat neighboring Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy 48-36 in the non-league season opener for both clubs Nov. 24.
"We talked a lot about the importance of starting the season on a strong note and [building] some confidence right away, and to go on the road and play well was great for us," noted head coach Joe Nowak.
Falls followed up their victory by smashing Akron Ellet 60-28 at home. Falls sits at 2-0 on the season.
Although hit hard by graduation, this was a CVCA unit that reached the Nordonia Division II district final a year ago.
Surging to a 13-7 first quarter lead, the Black Tigers held the Royals to a handful of field goals and just 16 first half points. It was 26-16 at the half.
"Our defense was good," said Nowak.
"We mixed things up on defense and tried to increase tempo with our press," he explained. "We responded well in this particular game with the press and up tempo."
Sisters Kayla Huffman and Chelsea Huffman paced Falls offensively with 15 points apiece.
A 5-foot-11 four-year starter, Kayla Huffman had a solid all-around game and made a 3-pointer.
Chelsea Huffman, a 5-10 sophomore, buried a pair of treys in the victory.
"It’s no secret that Kayla and Chelsea are keys to our offense and their scoring is important for us," said the mentor. "They did a great job as CVCA did a nice job on limiting them at times."
Senior forward Hannah Merten added eight points, six rebounds and strong defense.
Another senior, guard Anna Steiner, also contributed five points and sound defense while sophomore post Olivia Lemmon was a huge key on the boards and on defense in the paint.
The 6-0 Lemmon grabbed a team-high seven boards in the win.
"Merten and Lemmon really increased their level of aggressiveness and we knew we would have to rebound well on both ends," said Nowak. "They got a number of key rebounds in the fourth quarter."
Leslie Sawyer and Madie Davis, both seniors, also contributed for Falls. Sawyer had three points and Davis had two.
"We had a lot of contributions from several girls and from the bench," said Nowak.
CVCA, which was held to only 12 field goals, was paced by wing Kaitlyn Judge, who buried three triples and had 19 points.
Judge is a veteran player for the Royals who made 50 treys last winter. That mark was just shy of a CVCA school record.
Against Ellet, Falls jumped out to leads of 13-7 after one quarter and 37-14 at halftime. The Black Tigers then shut out the Orangemen in the third quarter before Nowak sent in his reserves in the fourth quarter.
Ellet was held to just nine field goals in the loss.
Kayla Huffman led the Black Tigers with 19 points, while Chelsea Huffman added 16 points, including three 3 pointers. Steiner also reached double digits, as she scored 11 points.
Falls will open Suburban League National Conference play by traveling to Twinsburg Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
The Black Tigers will host Brecksville-Broadview Heights Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.