When you’re running the break with William Monroe’s Sam Brunelle you’ve got to be ready. Ready for a pass you didn’t expect, ready for some cross-court rope that’s right on your hands in a split second.
Thursday night in the Dragons’ 47-25 win over Madison County, Jenna Velasquez was ready.
“It’s constantly keeping your hands up, being aware, just looking for that,” Velasquez said. “I played AAU in the spring with a couple of teammates and that helped me get used to the faster style.”
Velasquez fielded several of Brunelle’s bullets on the break and calmly finished en route to 14 points, a strong and necessary performance against a scrappy, gutty Madison squad that didn’t back down defensively against the Dragons. In a tremendous effort, Makenna Santinga followed Brunelle, who managed to still put up a triple double with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, everywhere as part of a triangle-and-two approach by the Mountaineers.
“I told Makenna, give Sam credit, she’s an awesome player but that has nothing to do with your work ethic and heart and she stepped up to the challenge,” said Madison coach Dwight Brill.
Velasquez stepped up and made the most of her opportunities. It’s a rapid improvement too, as she ran for a cross country squad that qualified for states this year, which didn’t allow much focus on basketball.
“Jenna has grown up tremendously over the last three weeks,” said Monroe coach Jess Stafford. “She started a little bit behind and playing catchup but boy does she catch up.”
Santinga made Brunelle work for everything on the offensive end, but Madison stalled out offensively in the first quarter and trailed 9-2 heading in the second frame. That was enough of an edge for the Dragons who then managed to hold a more in control performance by the Mountaineers after the break in check and pull away for the win.
“In the first half we were just in a hurry, we were going 90 miles an hour,” Brill said. “In the second half we slowed down.”
Despite the loss, it’s clear how much the Mountaineers (3-1) have improved, a year removed from a 5-19 campaign.
“We’re still young and it’s taking time but this is our fourth year but we come out of the gate and we play hard,” Brill said. “It’s a good group of girls and they play for each other. It’s nice walking in the gym and not being everybody’s 60-20 anymore.”
Abigail Tanner finished with nine points to lead Madison while Makayla Taylor had eight.
The Dragons managed to adjust to the Mountaineers’ defensive approach enough throughout to overcome those early struggles and battle to the win despite a generally off night offensively, with Velasquez helping steady things.
“I love my team, they’re always supportive, they’re what drives me,” Velasquez said. “We pick each other up and drive each other forward and get better as a whole.”
Brunelle’s triple double came after a moving pregame ceremony. The Morris family that bought the Team USA jersey Brunelle offered up for charity auction returned it, framed, to her.
While Brunelle and Velasquez did the vast majority of the heavy lifting offensively, Iyanna Carey had seven points on offense and three steals on the defensive end. Alexandra Whitehurst chipped in five rebounds and two steals.
Madison will travel to take on Goochland Monday while Monroe is slated to play in a tournament this weekend in Washington, D.C.