SCOTIA — Jill Ballard took one shot during last Friday’s Section II Class C girls’ basketball championship game win for Mekeel Christian Academy.
She missed it.
That didn’t deter Ballard from continuing to do the little things that can make a big difference for a basketball team. While veteran teammates Rebekkah Dean, Jessie Show and Liz Singleton scored all of Mekeel’s points in its 43-26 victory against Hoosic Valley, Ballard grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, set strong picks on offense and helped anchor a defense that held its opponent to 23.5 percent shooting from the field.
“She’s been extremely important because she gets the stats that go unnoticed,” said Dean, a junior. “She’s a tremendous player, and she works hard.”
“Jill’s one of the main reasons, for sure, why we all got to hold up that [championship] plaque tonight,” Mekeel head coach Guy DeAngelis said Friday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. “She did everything we asked of her and more. So, as a freshman, not bad. She exceeded a lot of expectations.”
Oh, right — Ballard is a freshman starter on a team whose other four starters were back from last season’s squad that finished as the area runner-up.
Ballard? Last season, she was on Mekeel’s modified team.
Well, she was its manager.
“But I went to all the practices,” said Ballard, who couldn’t play last season as she recovered from a torn ACL in her left knee.
Back healthy, Ballard earned a starting spot for Mekeel during the preseason. She’s averaging 2.5 points per game this season, but leads the team in taking care of dirty work.
“Rebounds are definitely a big thing for me,” she said. “I’ll shoot if I’m open, but I usually try to get it to one of our better scorers — one of our more-experienced scorers. I think that helps the team best.”
In general, though, the Lions pride themselves on valuing teamwork above individual excellence.
“When somebody makes a great shot, a great basket, it’s almost always the result of their teammates setting that shot up for them,” DeAngelis said. “That’s what happens for us.”
“There are 10 girls on our roster and even though all of them might not see the floor [each game], we all practice together, all run sprints together,” said Show, her team’s only senior. “It’s a team effort.”
That mentality has helped Mekeel to a No. 2 ranking in the state poll and has it on a 23-game winning streak as it heads into the state tournament. It next plays Saturday against a to-be-determined opponent at HVCC.
Ballard remembers being “very, very nervous” before she played in her first varsity game this season. Now, nerves are a thing of the past for the freshman who stepped up this season to complete the Lions’ starting lineup.
“She’s handled it like a champion,” DeAngelis said, “and that’s why we’re champions.”