WOODS CROSS — With just 18 basketball players and three rosters to fill, Tarah Vernon knew she had to do something a little unorthodox if the season was going to be a success.
The first-year head coach asked five girls — four soccer players and one volleyball player — who didn't participate last year, but had played for the school in the past, to consider joining the team a month after tryouts.
"It increased our depth; it increased our athleticism; and it increased our speed," Vernon said after the Wildcats won their second straight game with a 57-46 victory over Olympus. "It's been a challenge, but I want to commend my team for accepting the new players and taking on the challenges."
Forward Cami Horrocks said it was difficult to accept five new varsity players a month into the season because it meant less playing time for some girls.
"It was hard at first," said Horrocks, who led the team with 12 points and 11 rebounds. "Some of the girls were feeling threatened, but we realized we need them to win. And they're good, fun girls to play with."
Hannah Petersen is grateful for a second chance to play a game she loves.
"I regretted not playing last year," said the soccer player. "I love basketball; it's such a fun sport. I am very grateful (coach Vernon reached out) because I love playing. We love what we're doing."
Petersen said she was nervous about joining the team so late, but that was more out of fear that her basketball skills were rusty.
"I was more excited nervous because I haven't played for a couple of years," she said smiling.
The Wildcats had lost six in a row when Vernon invited the other athletes to join the squad. They had a tryout, and after two practices together, they've won two straight games.
"I think we'll be a lot better," said Horrocks. "We just need time to bond together."
Both players and coaches were thrilled with a hard-fought win over a tough Titan squad Friday night. The Titans jumped out to a lead, but only led the Wildcats 23-22 by halftime. The Wildcats had trouble with the Olympus press at first, but in the second half, they not only found a way through it most of the time, they were quick enough to earn some easy layups because of it.
"Tonight was our best start by far," said Vernon laughing. "We're usually down by 10, so I'll take two or four."
Both teams struggled at the free-throw line, but Vernon was proud of how her team handled a close, physical contest. Eden Jacobsen and Aliyah Miller each added 11 points.
"We played with a lot of poise," she said. "We played with a lot of confidence, and we stayed aggressive. We weren't afraid. I think we're just going to get better from here on out."
Rachel VanderToolen led the Titans with 18 points, while Abbie Brockbank added 15 points. Foul trouble hurt the Titans, who had two players foul out of the game.