COLUMBIA — Four points, two assists and a steal. Not a typical standout performance. But it’s never the numbers that make Hickman’s senior point guard Shaunece Ballenger special.
The 5-foot-3-inch senior keeps the Kewpies cohesive. She relays coach Tonya Mirts’ play calls, breaks the press and still manages to make crucial plays. Ballenger displayed all of her skills Monday night in Hickman’s 60-38 win against Rolla.
“You definitely have to take in everything — orders from coach, getting them to the girls, knowing what’s going on,” Ballenger said. “That’s a big role I have, getting everything communicated to the floor.”
Even though she’s usually the smallest girl on the court, the last thing Ballenger thinks about is her height disadvantage.
“I don’t really look at the size,” she said. “People say it a lot but I don’t pay attention to it. I just try to be aggressive and do what I can. It bothers me when people say you can’t do certain things with your size. I just listen and do what I can.”
Midway through the first quarter with the game tied at six, Ballenger was double-teamed in the corner on the Kewpies' side of the court. She started to backpedal toward the center of the court, but quickly crossed over to her left hand and cut toward the basket. After alluding two defenders, Ballenger finished by banking in a right-handed reverse layup.
“She’s tough and quick,” junior Aqua Corpening said. “She doesn’t have very much size, but she’s going to battle with everybody just like other people are going to battle with her. She battles like she’s six feet. Shaun does a really good just of filling her role and doing what the team needs her to do. She showed that tonight.”
Ballenger’s most effective play comes when she’s breaking the a full-court press. When two defenders try to trap her in the backcourt, she’s got three ways to get out.
The first option is to pass. Ballenger keeps her head up and her eyes survey the court looking for an open teammate to pass to.
If there’s no clear path she goes to the crossover dribble, which consistently makes defenders look like they’ve got cement in their shoes.
The final option is to attack the defenders twice as hard as they’re attacking her. She runs toward them shoulder first and rips through the pressure.
“It takes a lot out of me,” Ballenger said. “Just trying to break the press every time going down the floor. I take a lot of pride in it. I look forward to it. I look to be involved and get it done.”
It’s taken Mirts a few games to figure out the best way to utilize Ballenger in the back court, but the adjustment she made Monday night proved to be the right one. Instead of having Ballenger catch the ball on an inbounds pass, Mirts made her point guard come from behind the defenders and catch the second pass.
“We just swing it to her and she shoots through the press," Mirts said. "It makes a huge difference.”
While Corpening had the highlights, scoring 26 points against Rolla, Mirts said she couldn’t imagine how her team would function its point gaurd.
“She’s the glue,” Mirts said. “Aqua held us together a little bit offensively tonight, but there’s no doubt that Shaun’s the glue to our team. She’s what makes us run. Without her in the game out turnovers are really gonna sky.”