CLARKSON VALLEY — Ari Jones is back home.
The Fort Zumwalt West senior forward, who briefly attended Fort Zumwalt East earlier this fall due to a family situation, has been riding high ever since her return to the O’Fallon-based school.
That ease was readily apparent Monday as the Jaguars opened the season with a 56-35 win over Pattonville in the first round of the Marquette Classic.
“It was a situation with COVID and everything,” said Jones of the move and return. “I got a real nice welcome back from everyone. The first day back, everyone was surprised, like ‘Is that Ari?’ It’s nice to be back and be around what I know.”
The 5-foot-10 Jones highlighted her return with an early flurry on Monday.
She scored eight of her 11 points in a seven-minute span in the first half to help her team build up a seven-point lead. Several of her baskets came off perfectly executed screen-and-roll plays.
Zumwalt West coach Chad Towers said Jones was able to stabilize the offense while the rest of the team worked its way through opening night.
“Ari means a heck of a lot to us, she’s a good player, she’s very athletic and she’s very strong,” Towers said. “I think for everybody, we had our first game and I don’t know if we had jitters, but we had to shake the cobwebs off and she helped us do that tonight.”
When Pattonville (0-2) keyed in on Jones, she simply turned the reigns over to senior forward Madison Weydert and junior guard Cheing-Hai Christen.
West reeled off a 22-3 run between the second and third quarters to break the game open. The Jaguars led 42-20 after three periods.
“Pattonville tried to run, so it felt good when we could slow it to our pace to take control,” Weydert said. “We got the shots we wanted and we played as a team and that made all the difference.”
Weydert and Christen also added 11 points apiece.
Sophomore guard Cami Stacker led the Pirates with 16 points.
Pattonville coach Don Boyce liked what he saw over the game's first 12 minutes.
“We’re a young team and it’s our second game, we’ve got a lot of learning to do,” Boyce said. “We’ve got to rebound, we’ve got to box out. We’re a little undersized.”
Zumwalt West will face Lafayette on Wednesday and Marquette on Friday. Each team in the tournament plays three games.
“I’m really excited,” Jones said. “We’ve got some great girls here. We’re going to keep working hard to see what we can accomplish.”