SYRACUSE Sometimes for a high school team, Senior Night can prove emotional, nostalgic and distracting, with the festivities overriding the game that follows.
That was not the case for the Westhill girls basketball team, and especially for Anna Ross, who poured in 24 points and dominated in all phases of the game as the Warriors rolled past Bishop Ludden 56-33 on Thursday night.
The contributions for Ross went beyond her baskets. With nine rebounds and seven steals, she provided an anchor to a much-improved Westhill defense, and her seven assists allowed others to shine - including fellow senior Sam Peebles, who had 12 points in her last regular-season home appearance.
Not only did the win clinch the OHSL Liberty American division regular-season championship, it served as sweet payback for state Class B no. 15-ranked Westhill's 59-52 defeat to the state no. 14-ranked Gaelic Knights exactly one month earlier, on Jan. 6.
"We didn't play that well the first time (agianst Ludden), and we were just not going to lose to them on Senior Night," said Ross.
What the Gaelic Knights (13-4) found out in the rematch was just how much the Warriors' defense has stepped up. Head coach Sue Ludwig said the key to her team's recent surge (which included a 55-23 romp over another state-ranked team, Bishop Grimes, on Feb. 1) was having the players talk to each other to recognize plays and create traps out of them.
Ross agreed. "We got back to the basics of communication," she said. "It's easier to play defense when you know where everyone else is."
From the start, the Gaelic Knights were certainly aware. After Stephanie Brazell's basket in the game's first 90 seconds, Ludden did not manage another point for more than nine minutes, frequently forced into turnovers as Ross and her teammates clogged up the lanes and deflected errant passes.