Vicenza boys, Naples girls stand atop D-II
Stars and Stripes February 2, 2024
VICENZA, Italy – Jesse Woods doesn’t try to take credit for the schedule. After all, he didn’t make it.
But since opening the season in December with four losses against two Division I opponents – including unbeaten defending champion Stuttgart – his Cougars have won seven straight games against their fellow Division II peers, including Friday night’s 65-49 triumph over Naples.
“It certainly did help,” Vicenza’s veteran coach said of playing larger schools to begin the season.
But Woods admits that in the past, it probably wouldn’t have. Vicenza has fielded young, inexperienced teams in recent seasons and the results generally showed that. But this year’s squad – still on the young side, but with many having at least a year in the program – could be the year the Cougars break through at the season-ending championships Feb. 14-17 in Wiesbaden, Germany.
“It should be,” Woods said. “But we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Vicenza’s 1-2-2 full-court zone defense gave Naples fits Friday, forcing 23 turnovers – twice as many as the Cougars committed.
“Turnovers definitely were a big issue in the game,” Naples assistant coach Chris Kasparek said. “We’ll learn from it. We’ll get better. Tomorrow might be a different story.”
Kasparek also pointed to a disparity in height between the two squads. And Woods agreed that it was the best game of the season by several of his interior players.
That included a 12-point, seven-rebound effort from 6-foot-7 sophomore Simon Gilbert and nine points and 11 rebounds from junior forward Joe Kelly. It also included 10 points off the bench from junior Michael Darland, including six in a key stretch where the Cougars pulled away.
Neither team led by more than a few points in the first half.
Darland scored twice in a row on short bank shots and Ben Harlow scored another basket to cap a 6-0 run with less than a minute left in the third period that gave Vicenza its biggest lead of the game at 43-33. After the two teams traded baskets to open the fourth, the Wildcats never got closer than double digits the rest of the way.
“The nice thing about DODEA basketball is that everyone gets a shot at the end of the season,” Kasparek said. “So we’ll see what happens then.”
Harlow led Vicenza with 14 points and also had six steals and five assists. Jace Herron had 12 points and six steals. Jeramiah Robinson paced Naples with 14 points, Thurman Bruner added 13 points and 10 rebounds and Jettyn Jones scored 10.
Naples 34, Vicenza 32: The best play all night for the Wildcats was to miss a shot and have VaNae Filer ready to rebound it and score. The 5-6 sophomore scored 12 of her 16 points on putbacks, grabbing most of her game-high 12 rebounds in the process.
“VaNae’s a heck of a rebounder,” Naples coach Jim Davis said. “There are three or four girls on the court taller than her, but she’s got some leap in her step.”
“She abused us,” Vicenza coach Greg DeJardin said. “She has a great instinct for the ball, but we’ve got to do a better job keeping her off the boards.”
Vicenza led for much of the first half, but went cold to start the third quarter. Naples scored the first 10 points to take a 24-20 advantage and Vicenza never led again. Alexandria Taylor’s basket with 1 minute, 52 seconds left in the period finally broke the ice for the Cougars.
DeJardin said he was happy his team never gave up, though it couldn’t quite close the gap. Taylor’s three-point field goal just beat the buzzer and made the score close, but Naples didn’t have to even inbound it and the game was over.
Gracie Grannis added 10 points for the Wildcats, who are on top of D-II with an 8-1 record. Maya Fitch led Vicenza with 10 points.