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Phillipsburg pulls away from Russell to stay perfect

Sets up key matchup with Trego
Phillipsburg's Taryn Sides (Photo: Joey Bahr, www.joeybahr.com)
Phillipsburg's Taryn Sides (Photo: Joey Bahr, www.joeybahr.com)(Joey Bahr | (Photo: Joey Bahr, www.joeybahr.)
Published: Jan. 9, 2021 at 4:58 PM CST
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RUSSELL, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Phillipsburg girls’ basketball has personnel advantages over most opponents. The Panthers feature sophomore point guard Taryn Sides, a high-level Division I recruit. Phillipsburg has plenty of height, led by senior Meredith Jacobs and sophomore Heather Schemper, each 5-foot-11.

The Panthers feature five seniors and strong depth. Phillipsburg has bought into the weight room and built strength and speed. Additionally, players and townspeople often use the Community Building Gym, an old-time stone structure in Phillipsburg. The building yielded informal basketball during a lengthy coronavirus-induced winter sports moratorium from Dec. 23 to Jan. 7.

On Friday, the gym time provided another edge when Phillipsburg pulled away in the second half for a 55-39 victory at Russell in a Mid-Continent League contest. Sides finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and four assists. Jacobs and Schemper each tallied 10.

Phillipsburg, ranked fourth in Class 3A, improved to 7-0, 4-0 in conference in the team’s first game since Dec. 18. The winter break was longer than normal this year because of COVID-19, and teams had just four practices before the restart.

Unranked Russell led 21-20 late in the first half. Phillipsburg scored the last four points before intermission and opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run. Sides often upped pace, which yielded fast break points.

“The girls played hard, and that’s all you can do,” coach Rachel Miller said. “You can play hard, and then eventually that rhythm and that flow is going to come back.”

Five of the Panthers’ first six victories came by at least 30 points. Phillipsburg defeated Central Plains, 49-44, in the Russell tournament on Dec. 12 to end the Oilers’ state record 138-game winning streak.

Unranked Russell, under first-year coach Lexi Schamberger, dropped to 3-4. Russell has shown improvement after a 1-9 opening in ’19-20. That included a 30-point loss to Phillipsburg. Junior Rylan Reeves recorded her fourth double-double this season with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Schamberger said her team played “really well” and saw “mostly positives,” though noticed Phillipsburg was better conditioned.

“It was a really good learning game for us, and we competed really well,” Schamberger said. “Definitely, one of the main lessons we could have learned was working out over break. You can tell we were a little gassed. Had we have had a little healthier team, we probably would have stuck with them even more.”

In the first half, Sides shot 2 of 8 for five points, though delivered three steals, five rebounds and a key assist. With 47 seconds left before halftime, Heather Schemper found Ava Schemper for a basket and 22-21 lead. The Panthers never trailed again.

At the 24-second mark, Sides, at a quick tempo, assisted on another Ava Schemper basket. Ava mainly served as a reserve her junior season and has stepped into the starting lineup.

“She works hard to improve her game, and she is a good shooter,” Miller said.

Some of that work comes from the Community Building, located at 425 F Street and associated with the Phillipsburg City Office. A longtime town gathering place, the building is equipped with bleachers, chairs and tables. Basketball, volleyball, pickleball, walking and family functions all occur. The gym, more than 75 years old, is 85 by 80 feet. Reservation is $100 per day or $10 an hour. Ava’s mother, Heidi, was among those who rented.

The City of Phillipsburg’s calendar showed the gym rent for informal basketball at least one hour a day on Christmas Eve, Dec. 26, along with Dec. 28 through Jan. 1.

“Tried to stay in shape a little bit,” Keith Sides, Phillipsburg’s boys’ coach and Taryn’s father, said.

Ava called the basketball time “not like open open gyms” but simply an opportunity to play indoors during cold weather and still adhering to COVID-19 policies. Official high school practice re-started this week.

“She is playing with a lot of confidence this year,” Miller said of Ava.

As well, Miller used the long break to watch significant film and help prepare for next Tuesday’s contest, a marquee home matchup against undefeated WaKeeney-Trego.

“When they don’t let me practice with the girls, I have got to do something,” Miller said with a smile. “I did put in many hours.”

The Golden Eagles, ranked fourth in 2A, have rolled through their 7-0 start with its highly experienced starting lineup. Last winter, WaKeeney beat Phillipsburg for the league tournament. Then, Phillipsburg won at WaKeeney for the regular season title. Other than that loss, Trego has won 30 straight contests. Phillipsburg is 16-1 in its last 17 games dating back to last year.

Miller expects the game to be “well-contested” with high energy.

“It’s an MCL matchup,” Miller said. “We are familiar with each other. We know where their strengths come from. They know where our strengths come from, and I think it’s just going to come down to who is ready. Because this is such an abbreviated beginning to the second half of the season.”

Miller hoped that the Panthers’ second-half performance versus Russell would carry over to WaKeeney. During halftime, the Panthers had a brief meeting.

“Talked about, ‘Where are places where we can attack?’ and what were some defensive adjustments that we could make,” Miller said. “And we knew coming out of halftime that these first three minutes were really critical, and we just needed to get into a rhythm. We just couldn’t find any rhythm in the first half, and kudos to Russell.”

In the first four and a half minutes, Phillipsburg had its 12-2 run. Sides pushed tempo for a fast break basket by Heather Schemper. Then, a Jacobs steal led to a terrific 3-point fast break play by Sides. Later, Sides drove and finished with a left-handed floater.

Phillipsburg held Russell to just 32 percent shooting, including 7 of 24 (29 percent) in the second half. Ava Schemper played solid defense.

“She is quick,” Miller said. “She does a good job of getting into position.”

In the second half, she yielded a nice help side play where she came off her opponent. Schemper helped and forced a Reeves miss.

“We really just started talking, communicating more,” Ava said. “Just kind of got back into our groove really. We really just were not talking at all first half, and that really messed with us.”

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