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Things just keep getting better for the Greenville girls basketball team and junior forward Nancy Fritzsche.

After a conference championship and 18 victories last season, the Comets (19-7 overall, 8-1 South Central) already have more wins than a year ago. Fritzsche, meanwhile, is enjoying the most successful season of her high school career.

In 25 games, the 5-foot-11 Fritzche is averaging 12 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.

"We've been working on communicating better with each other the entire season and we've really seen that pay off," Fritzsche said. "I know my teammates and I will do whatever it takes for this team to reach our goals."

Comets coach Kolin Dothager said Fritzsche has been important as the offensive ring leader but other players also have filled important roles.

For instance, 6-4 sophomore center Megan Hallemann (10.3 points per game) and junior guard Ally Cantrill (7.3) also have helped carry the offensive load.

“After winning conference, winning 18 games and being three points shy of a regional title (last year) and bringing back over 80 percent of our scoring, expectations from ourselves and those involved were high,” Dothager said. “While this season has been far from perfect, we have been able to use those expectations as goals that has fueled our success this season.”

Still, to discount Fritzsche would be to do her a great disservice, Dothager said.

Fritzsche has 10 double-doubles this season for Greenville, which has won 12 of its last 15 games.

“There are a lot of factors that have made this year a success, but some that stick out in our mind are balanced scoring, our defensive effort, and our workhorse, Nancy,” Dothager said. “Nancy exceeded all expectations as a sophomore, constantly earning more and more playing time and trust and helping us win big games down the stretch last season and earning a second-team all-conference award. Knowing she was going to have an even bigger role this season, she has again exceeded expectations. She has a rare mix of inside strength and outside shooting that is a tough matchup for many opponents. But honestly, it's not her skill that has set her apart, it's her motor. Nancy never stops working, not for a second.”

Greenville closes the regular season at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Metro-East Lutheran.

The Comets have a first-round bye in the Class 2A Arthur Regional and face either Sullivan or Meridian at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in a second-round encounter. 

“We feel that we are primed and ready for a deep and satisfying postseason run,” Dothager said.

ZUMWALT WEST SEES LIGHTNING STRIKE TWICE

For the second time this season, Fort Zumwalt West has overcome long odds to earn a victory.

Down by 13 points to Timberland with three minutes left Jan. 26, Zumwalt West (6-12) outscored the Wolves 21-3 in 180 seconds to earn a 50-45 win.

The galvanizing moment for the Jags, senior guard Mikayla Rodgers said, was seeing fellow senior Brielle Palmer leaving the game with a serious head injury after falling to the floor.

“Seeing Brielle go down with her concussion, that struck me,” Rodgers said. “It comes down to mental toughness and wanting to win. We've been through a lot of injuries this season — two ACL tears, a meniscus, back problems. To see someone I've been playing with since the fourth grade go down like that and have to be rushed to the hospital made me want to win for her.”

While Rodgers' 15 points, including a perfect 8 for 8 from the free-throw line, paced West, a freshman had an equally big hand in the comeback.

Guard Julia Crenshaw drilled a pair of 3-pointers to ignite the offensive surge.

“I finally started hitting my shots and I just wanted to help the team so bad, so it felt great to come through,” Crenshaw said. “I've been a part of comebacks before, but with all the fans we had there supporting us in the win, this meant something more to me.”

Katie Pauk added 10 points while Crenshaw and Brooklyn Palmer each came through with eight important points.

The win marks the second time this season West has completed a big comeback. After trailing by double digits to Park Hill on Jan. 5, West won that game 57-53 in overtime.

“It just seems like we've been trying to overcome all season, what with all the injury issues,” West coach Mandee Krueger said. “I tell the girls that when it rains it pours, but you have to have rain to have a rainbow. This game was our turnaround. We can still compete in conference and finish strong. This was important for us.”

WEBSTER WINTER CHALLENGE BRINGS TOP TEAMS TOGETHER

This year's version of the toughest late-season girls basketball tournament in the area kicked off Tuesday and runs through Saturday.

The Webster Winter Challenge opened Tuesday with victories by Rock Bridge and Kirkwood, teams that will face off in a semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday.

Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said the Bruins make the late-season trek to St. Louis annually because it prepares her team for the rigors of playoff basketball.

“I call the Webster Tournament the juggernaut of all tournaments,” Nagel said. “It's not uncommon for all eight teams to have wining records and that is almost the case this year. I believe only two teams are below .500 and it is just one or two games on a schedule where they have challenged every night and are battle-tested. It would be staggering to know how many Class 4 and 5 state champions have played in this tournament over the past several years. If not state champions, final four competitors as well. The saying goes, 'iron sharpens iron' and that is definitely the case with this tournament. We are honored to compete with this field each year and know we have to be focused and ready each night.”

Kirkwood coach Monica Tritz agreed with Nagel's assessment of the event getting teams ready for what's to come.

Heading into the second set of first-round games Wednesday, the eight teams have a combined 96-42 record this season.

"The Webster tournament occurs at the perfect time,” Tritz said. “We can see where we sit and what we need to work on by playoffs."

One newcomer to the tournament is Parkway Central (15-1), which opens the event Wednesday against St. Joseph's.

Colts coach Brian Guilfoyle said he is excited to see the young Colts as a part of such a prestigious event.

“The team is excited to participate in the tournament,” Guilfoyle said. “ We decided to enter the tournament because we want to play talented teams at the end of our schedule that help us prepare for districts. Our goal is to compete hard in every game so we grow as a team. Several teams from this tournament played repeatedly in the state tournament. This will be a great challenge for us. Our biggest issue is staying healthy from injuries and illness. The team has really focused on the fundamentals of the game and valuing each possession.”

Kirkwood, which beat Incarnate Word 76-69 in the title game last year, is the defending tournament champion.

After the completion of the opening round Wednesday, semifinals are scheduled to be played Friday at 7 and 8:30 p.m. and the championship game is slated for 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

HAZELWOOD WEST CONTINUES STRONG PLAY AFTER SLOW START

Throw out a loss to Lutheran North on Tuesday and Hazelwood West has been playing some good basketball under coach Kelly Russell.

Hazelwood West (9-5) has put together a strong campaign after starting with three consecutive losses.

Russell said there are several girls pitching in, led by sophomore Mykel Mathews, the team's leading scorer at 17.5 points per game.

It has gone even deeper than Taleah Dilworth and Abby Patterson, who also average in double digits.

“It has been a real team effort in maintaining our success,” Russell said. “Mykel Mathews is leading our offense and, of course, Taleah and Abby aren't far behind. We have had multiple people step up throughout the season when we've needed them. Joshlyn Robinson has really stepped up her defensive pressure. Dony'A Blackson and Kara Wilson are doing a great job at (a forward) position, and freshman Riley Nilges has come up big for us lately filling spots when we were missing players.”

The Wildcats have a tough schedule to finish out the regular season with remaining games against Kirkwood, Hazelwood Central and Lafayette.

“We are looking forward to seeing how we stack up against the tough competition we are about to encounter,” Russell said. “I think this team may surprise some people but, either way, we are going to take our experience and make a lesson out of it. It's the theme of our season, get better every day.”

TIP-INS

A pair of players recently hit the 1,000-point scoring plateau for their careers. Principia senior Kate Hinds hit the mark in a 69-17 win Jan. 25 as part of her 23-point game. Borgia senior Cassidy Moss also hit the mark during a loss to Sullivan on Jan. 12 at the Union Tournament.

 The Borgia Tournament wraps up this weekend as Borgia, Union, Parkway South and Cardinal Ritter remain in the championship bracket. Borgia plays Union and South plays Ritter in the semifinals Friday and the winners advance to the title game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

 Class 1A and 2A regional tournaments begin next week in Illinois. For schedules and results, see the STLhighschoolsports.com girls basketball tournament page.

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