Getting in your face: Some Grand Valley players are true defensive stoppers

There are roles in sports that are crucial to team success, but never get the limelight.

Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of offensive linemen selling shaving cream or getting shoe endorsements.

But these roles are important, and usually occupied by someone who doesn’t mind taking a back seat to other players if it means more wins.

In basketball, every successful team has a player or two who are pleased to sacrifice any type of offensive glory to be a defensive specialist.

“Every team needs someone who’s willing to sacrifice offensive (statistics) because they’re burning energy on the defensive end,” Fruita Monument High School girls coach Dan Schmalz said. “We have kids who want to score a lot, and we have kids who really enjoy shutting someone down.”

Defensive stoppers are important because high school teams have offenses geared to get certain players scoring opportunities. Schmalz said he usually looks to senior guard Katie Lewis to defend the other team’s best offensive player.

“Every team has someone offensively that they try to get the ball to,” Lewis said. “It becomes a matter of knowing how to shut them down.”

A team’s defensive stopper doesn’t always have to be a senior. Early in the season, the Palisade boys used 6-foot-2 sophomore Gabe Hellmann to contain Bear Creek’s Jaron Price to three points during the second half in a 54-48 win. Price had scored 14 points in the first half of that game, and has averaged 28 points per game over Bear Creek’s past four games.

“They are all starting to come around on team defense, and I think the guy that started that was Gabe Hellmann,” Palisade coach Steve Phillips said. “He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there.”

Lock-down defenders and being fundamentally sound usually go hand-in-hand.

Central’s Ashley Paul has made up for an admitted lack of offensive confidence by being a tough-nosed defender. Some of Paul’s early season work includes limiting ThunderRidge’s Carlie Needles to nine points.

Paul is only 5-5, and makes up for the lack of height by being able to play extremely tight to her opponent to get them out of their comfort zone.

“They’re usually very confident so I try to frustrate them,” Paul said. “When they are a little more careful, passing more and not dribbling as much, then you know you’ve done your job.”

Something that makes a defensive specialist so dangerous is their versatility. Like Lewis, Hellmann, and Paul, Grand Junction’s Sam Morgan has been called upon to guard almost every position on the floor this season. Grand Junction boys coach Dutch Johnson said what’s made Morgan successful as a defender is his cerebral approach to the role. “He sees the floor well, and Sam’s always in the right spot,” Johnson said. “He’s really good about keeping guys in front of him and challenging shots.”

Unlike other parts of the game, like dribbling and shooting, Johnson said a lot of being a good defender has more to do with a player’s mental frame of mind than physical skills.

“Whether it’s a smaller, quicker point guard type or a big guy, to be a good defensive player you have to have a certain mentality,” Johnson said. “You just have to get after it the whole time.”

Central girls coach Todd Dixon takes that philosophy further, saying the biggest key to being a good defender is hard work.

“Defense is almost 90 percent hustle,” Dixon said. “If you bust your tail, you’ll be OK.”


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