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Relentless defense fueling Lady Antlers’ success

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Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2019 10:41 pm

At one point during the second half of the Tivy girls’ 76-37 win over Seguin on Tuesday, Coach Christy Dill became somewhat annoyed with senior Peyton Ives.

Ives’ blunder? During one defensive possession, Ives didn’t bother to pass half court, delegating her defensive assignment to her teammates. Never mind the fact that the Lady Antlers were winning by more than 30 points at the time or that they were minutes away from winning their 19th straight game; Dill still didn’t allow her senior guard to get away with such a transgression.

“Great job sprinting down the floor,” Dill slyly deadpanned to Ives later in the game.

On Wednesday morning, the Lady Antlers were still laughing about the memory. Dill couldn’t help but make one more joke.

“We actually have a Peyton drill,” said Dill, who then turned to Ives and flashed a grin. “It’s called 5-on-4.”

Of course, Dill is just ribbing Ives. Even Ives herself likes to crack jokes about her own defense, but in reality, she’s a solid defensive player — swiping 2.2 steals per game and often planting her feet in the lane to draw charges.

Then again, she doesn’t have much of a choice. Relentless defense is a requirement in the Lady Antler program. Dill’s players don’t have much of a choice but to embrace defense — if they want to receive playing time.

After all, relentless defense has allowed the Lady Antlers to win at a high level during Dill’s 13 seasons at Tivy. In the last eight years, defensive stoppers such as Kendall Dyal, McKenzie Dill, Kendall McKenzie and Olivia Robertson have inflicted nightmares on opposing offenses. Dill expects her current crop of players to do the same.

“Coming in freshman year, you don’t know what the program is about. But you learn real fast that it’s about defense,” Ives said. “It’s just a legacy that the past players have left and what we have to continue. That’s why we take pride in defense.

“Our defense gives us an advantage.”

Indeed. During this season, the Lady Antlers’ defense has propelled them to a 25-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in state polls. They will look to sustain that defensive intensity when they host McCollum tonight at Antler Gym.

How good have the Lady Antlers been defensively this season? Here are a few stats. In nine district games, they are only allowing 31.2 points per game. In three of the those games, they held their opponent to less than 30 points. They are forcing 16.8 steals per game, with many of those swipes leading to easy transition opportunities for Tivy.

“That’s why we get steals,” said senior guard Charli Becker, who leads the Lady Antlers with 4.1 steals per game. “So we can play offense.”

“I feel like we get more points off defensive steals than we do setting up an offense,” Ives added.

The defensive success derives from year of hard work. As soon as players enter the program as freshmen, Dill and assistant coach Jessica Fierro demand excellence on the defensive end. Watch any Lady Antler practice, and it becomes obvious that intrasquad scrimmages are sometimes even more intense than the actual games. Turns out, having to defend speedster Audrey Robertson — who is averaging 12.4 points per game in district play — during scrimmages is a pretty solid way to improve at defense.

And there’s a simple reason why the Lady Antlers excel at defense: They are in good condition. Most of the players play on a travel team and perform strength training and cardio throughout the school year, enabling them to exert the necessary energy to play defense at a high level for an entire game.

“I do think we are in better shape than other teams,” Dill said. “They get after it and outlast other opponents.”

And Tivy’s coaches never hesitate to point out a defensive mistake during film sessions.

“The coaches roast you,” said Ives, laughing, speaking from personal experience.

Still, Dill offers more compliments than complaints when it comes to her team’s defensive effort. But that hasn’t stopped her from emphasizing defense every day in practice. After all, the Lady Antlers’ defense lifted them to the state semifinals last year. She’s hoping that, this year, their defense propels them even further.

“We hear it every day in practice: Just get a little bit better every day, and it will begin to add up,” Ives said. “There is always room for improvement. … We don’t just want to be at the state tournament every day, we want to be No. 1.

“Yes, we got there last year, but our journey ended short. We don’t want that to happen again.”

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