FORTVILLE — The Mt. Vernon girls basketball locker room door stayed shut longer than usual Saturday afternoon. Huddled together inside for more than 20 minutes after a tough loss to rival Pendleton Heights 51-39, the Marauders needed time.
Three days after everything went right on their home court against Class 4A Westfield, nothing seemed to fall the team’s way on the same floor during its Hoosier Heritage Conference opener Saturday.
The Marauders shot lower than 25 percent from the field as a single-digit deficit quickly grew to 10, 12 and eventually 16 points. At 3-6 on the season, consistency has proven elusive for the Marauders, but they remain committed to the process.
“We’re still trying to transition from last year to this year. It’s been a big jump, so we still need to find out who we are,” Mt. Vernon sophomore Sydnee Perry shared after the loss. “As a team, together, we need to try to figure that out.”
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After a 6-17 campaign in 2016-17, including a nine-game losing streak, Mt. Vernon is searching for a new identity this winter under hall of fame coach Julie Shelton, who is 263-113 in 17 seasons in Fortville.
This offseason, the program moved from a system led by former head coach Steve Doud to Shelton, who spent the past three years as a women’s basketball assistant coach at Butler University.
The learning curve has been an adjustment — both for the players and the coaching staff — but the Marauders continue to make strides.
After an 0-3 start to the year, the team won back-to-back games at Lawrence Central, 75-32, and at home against Rushville 64-63 in overtime.
A signature win this past Wednesday at home against Westfield, who entered at 6-1, was a sign of what could be.
However, with every step forward, the Marauders have staggered backwards, which was the topic of discussion behind closed doors.
“The win against Westfield went a long way in building our confidence. We had a slow start, so gaining that win against Westfield really helped us see that we can get to the next level that we want to be at,” Mt. Vernon senior Kaitlin Dunlavy said. “Obviously, this was a step back from that, but hopefully we can get back to that spot again.”
On Saturday, there were flashes of their potential. Perry scored a team-high 14 points with nine coming in the second half. The 5-foot-7 guard was averaging nearly nine points per game prior to tip-off and converted 3 of 6 shots in the final 16 minutes, including 2 of 4 3-pointers.
Tessa Freeman, a sophomore, had nine points and seven rebounds, while freshman Lexi Shelton had 10 rebounds and four points.
The Marauders trailed Pendleton Heights (5-4, 4-1 HHC) 26-14 before Perry buried her first of three treys to cut the margin to nine points.
Perry’s final 3-pointer sliced the deficit to nine points again, this time late in the fourth quarter, but a majority of the Marauders shots refused to drop through the net.
Against Lawrence Central, Mt. Vernon shot a season-best 55 percent from the field. During the Rushville game, the Marauders sat at 44 percent, and during their Westfield win they converted 33 percent of their shots with senior Sophie Williams scoring a season-best 22 points.
“It just seems like the games we’re winning, we’re hitting shots and have confidence. In the games we’re losing, once we start missing, it really doesn’t matter what shot we take, good, bad or otherwise, we haven’t been able to hit them,” Shelton said. “We have to figure that out.”
Discovering their identity as a group, Shelton said, will help propel the team as the season progresses. With four seniors in Dunlavy, Williams, Kaitlyn Nugent and Mary Fleming, the team has only one junior in Lindsey Hartl. The other eight rostered players are underclassmen.
The goal is to discover cohesiveness while gaining experience with players such as Freeman, freshman Abby Worley and Lexi Shelton all newcomers to the varsity ranks.
“I’m trying to learn them. I’ve never coached any of these players before and they’re trying to learn me. We have a real interesting dynamic with a lot seniors and freshmen and sophomores,” Shelton said. “We’re all trying to search for some of that, and I think that’s why the inconsistency. Some games and some days, we’re pretty good, and other days, we’re not so good.”
Despite opening 0-1 in the HHC, expectations haven’t waned. The Marauders travel to Anderson tonight and host Yorktown this Saturday in an attempt to even their league record.
“(Losses) are frustrating but they show us where we need to be and what we need to work on, along with our strengths and weaknesses,” Perry said. “As a team, we need to get better. (Westfield) showed us what we can really do and that’s where we need to be all the time.”
Pendleton Heights 51, Mt. Vernon 39
PENDLETON HEIGHTS (5-4, 4-1 HHC): Lauren Landes 3 9-10 16, Kailyn Graham 4 0-0 11, Kylie Davis 2 3-5 8, Aubree Dwiggins 2 0-0 5, Laikyn Conner 2 0-1 4, Leonie Wilson 0 3-4 3, Claire Fendel 1 1-2 4, Jayden Brown 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 16-22 51.
MT. VERNON (3-6, 0-1 HHC): Kaitlin Dunlavy 1 0-0 3, Tessa Freeman 4 0-2 9, Sophie Williams 0 2-2 2, Sydnee Perry 4 3-4 14, Lexi Shelton 2 0-0 4, Mary Fleming 0 0-2 0, Kaitlyn Nugent 1 0-0 2, Abby Worley 1 0-0 2, Lindsay Hartl 0 0-0 0, Madison Stamm 1 1-1 3. Totals: 14 6-10 39.
3-Pointers: PH 7 (Landes, Graham 3, Davis, Dwiggins, Fendel), MV 5 (Dunlavy, Freeman, Perry 3). Rebounds: PH 30 (Conner 9, Graham 6, Davis 4, Dwiggins 3), MV 42 (Shelton 10, Williams 5, Freeman 7, Stamm 4, Nugent 3). Turnovers: PH 14, MV 13. Fouls: PH 12, MV 18.