Much of the schedule thus far for the Amboy and Eastland girls basketball teams has been a mere appetizer.
Now it’s time for the main course.
The Clippers (15-0, 2-0 NUIC East) and Cougars (18-1, 3-0) are set for a small-school clash of the titans tonight in what promises to be a jam-packed Amboy High School gymnasium. Eastland, last year’s Class 1A state runner-up, is ranked No. 1 in this year’s Associated Press poll, while Amboy, a supersectional club in 2018-19 that was eliminated by eventual champion Danville Schlarman, currently is No. 3.
The teams were scheduled for a NUIC crossover last year, but it was postponed and eventually cancelled due to inclement weather. This year, with Eastland in the NUIC East, the clubs will play twice – tonight in Amboy, and again Jan. 21 in Lanark.
“That’s been on our calendar since the beginning of the season,” Eastland coach Nicole Brinker said. “The kids are excited about it. It’s great competition for us. I’m sure we’ve been on their calendar since the beginning of the season too. It’s going to be great to first go there, and then 2 weeks later they come to our place. It’s going to turn into a really cool rivalry.”
Amboy coach Mike McCracken echoed those sentiments.
“When we first saw the schedule, oh, January 7, that will be interesting,” McCracken said. “I’m glad it’s here because we’ve been looking at it for a long time. We do want to see where we’re at.”
The clubs are eerily similar in that they are fueled by a pair of top-notch guards, effective posts, and key role players.
For Eastland, senior guard Erin Henze averages 18.3 points per contest, with the bulk of those coming from 3-point range. She is 59 of 171 (the team is 72-for-245) from long distance, 77 of 137 from 2-point range, and also leads the team with 4.3 assists and 3.5 steals per game.
Backcourt mate Lydia Coatney, also a senior, averages 13.1 points and 6 rebounds – a large sum of boards for a 5-6 guard.
Karlie Krogman, a 6-foot junior, holds down the middle for the Cougars and averages 10.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Rounding out the starting lineup are a pair of seniors, 5-9 Meredith Janssen, who averages 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds, and 5-8 Dani Rush, who averages 5.6 points and 3.1 rebounds. Rush replaced the graduated Gabby Snyder in the starting lineup.
Amboy is led by a pair of junior guards in Mallory Powers and Abi Payne.
The 5-10 Powers was primarily a 3-point threat as an underclassmen, but has blossomed into an all-around threat. She averages 16.5 points, 4.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game.
Setting the table for the Clippers is the 5-8 Payne, who averages 13.1 points, 6.8 assists, 3.5 steals and 1.9 rebounds.
The top inside threat is Kyleigh Donna, a 6-foot senior averaging 8.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
Gabby Jones, a 5-8 junior, averages 7.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals, while Ashley Althaus, a 5-8 senior, averages 3.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.3 steals.
Brinker noted her team’s defensive focus will be contain Powers and Payne the best it can.
“They’re quite the duo up top,” Brinker said. “Powers is a little bit longer, so they can get those steals and turnovers, and they run out very quickly. Both of them shoot lights out. They’re obviously two of the best guards around, but then they have the inside game too.
“They’re well-balanced, and they run that 2-3 zone defense exceptionally well. They’re a very talented team, and we’re excited to see where we stack up against them.”
Eastland is coming off a somewhat lackluster performance against Newman on Saturday – a game that a host of Amboy people were there to witness. The Cougars promise to be laser-focused for the Clippers, however.
“There’s no doubt we’re going to have energy Tuesday,” Coatney said. “We’re looking forward to it, and we know [Amboy] is going to be great competitors.”
Eastland at Amboy
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight
Where: Amboy H.S.
Radio: 94.3 FM
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