If the Kelly Walsh girls didn’t prove something in the Jan. 19 game against Natrona County, their message on Friday night came in loud and clear.
The Trojans’ victory three weeks ago at Natrona County’s new Jerry Dalton Gym snapped the Fillies’ 71-game regular-season conference winning streak. Over a seven-year span no team had the might to dent the impenetrable Fillies. But Kelly Walsh has now done it twice in less than a month.
Kelly Walsh (13-4, 6-0 Class 4A West Conference) successfully defended its home court Friday night with a 51-42 victory over its cross-town rival and, in the process, brought home its first Peach Basket in nine years.
“It’s a great feeling,” Kelly Walsh senior Madison Vinich said. “I’ve had the VolleyBowl but never a Peach Basket, so it’s nice to get that.”
Over her four years of high school athletics, Vinich has been a cornerstone of every box score. This season she leads the Trojans in points (17.8 per game), rebounds (6.5) and assists (3.3). She finished Friday’s game in a three-way tie for the team lead in points with 10.
One of the two she tied with was senior swing player Michaela Gromer, a starter all season who helps anchor the defense and rarely reaches double figures. The other was classmate and best friend Hallie Jimenez, who has proven to be one of the best guards in the state this season.
Two years removed from total knee surgery, Jimenez has played without abandon to cause chaos on the perimeter and pull down baffling rebounds against players six inches taller. On Friday she added clutch free throws to her resume.
She made 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to help Kelly Walsh preserve the win. Jimenez and junior guard Kylie Spangler, who typically subs in for the senior at the point, combined to baffle the Fillies’ front court. Natrona County committed 27 turnovers in the first meeting and had 24 on Friday night.
“Our defense definitely led to our offense tonight,” Spangler said. “Our free throws led us there, too. Hallie did amazing tonight and with those free throws, she definitely got us the win.”
Sophomore post Corin Carruth was the key contributor in the Jan. 19 game at Natrona County, pulling down a season-high 12 rebounds and scoring a game-high 19 points. The Fillies remembered that and had senior standout Kristy Dick guarding Carruth at times early. But Friday was not the night Carruth stood out again, it was the guards’ time to shine. And their spirited play in the second half proved to be the difference.
Natrona County (9-8, 3-3 4A West) held a 25-23 lead at halftime in large part because of sophomore post Kate Robertson. She finished with a game-high 14 points, 12 of them coming in the first half. Robertson also had seven rebounds, but her contributions late were limited after picking up her fourth foul with 5:15 remaining.
Dick was then tasked with shouldering the load and couldn’t keep up with the Trojans’ balanced attack. She tallied 10 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in this year’s Peach Basket. But the rest of the Fillies fell silent.
Bre Kelly scored her only points on a corner 3 midway through the second quarter, the only Natrona County points in the first half not scored by either Robertson or Dick. Senior Emma Swan added seven points on three shots, of which Dick had assists on two, and senior Marquel Gibson contributed five points. Sophomore Kylie Hilderbrand hit a 3 in the third quarter for the Fillies’ only bench points.
Natrona County has been the gold standard in the 4A West Conference for the last decade. The Fillies have won the regular-season crown in nine of the last 10 years in addition to not having lost a game since Jan. 22, 2011. Current Stanford standout Kaylee Johnson was a freshman at that time in the only season she didn’t win Gatorade Wyoming Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors.
The Fillies now find themselves searching for answers and an identity with just four games remaining before regionals. In those two weeks they will have to develop a true identity and get increased production from Kelly, Gibson and Swan.
The Trojans, meanwhile, stand alone at the top of the conference.
“Starting off conference 6-0 is a great start, it’s the best start we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Vinich said. “(KW head coach Sara) Tuomi has kind of been preaching to us, ‘Why not us?’ Because Kelly Walsh girls basketball has not had a state title in ever so it’s a great feeling and a goal that we’re going to shoot for.”