BETHANY -- They're a complementary pair, Paige Robinson and Natalie Jeffers.

The Okaw Valley juniors have drastically different styles on the basketball court, but it's almost better that way. On Monday, they took turns as Okaw Valley downed Mount Pulaski 45-27.

Robinson is the pure basketball star, the one who can step back and hit a long 3-pointer, the one who can break a press single-handedly and pressures guards with her lengthy frame.

Jeffers barrels into the lane, forgetting she's 5-foot-7, drawing fouls and hustling after loose balls to keep the Timberwolves' engine running.

"We've been playing together since bitty ball," Jeffers said. "It's just wonderful. We've always had this kind of connection. I like to get the assist and she likes to score.

"She's really worked so hard, she plays travel basketball in the summer and it really shows off. And she's getting stronger in the weight room."

The pair are part of an Okaw Valley team that returns much of what it had a year ago. After a tough tournament in Pana to start the year, the Wolves turned it on in the second half against Mount Pulaski to pull away on Monday. Okaw Valley was leading just 18-16 at the half.

"We made some adjustments at halftime offensively. I kind of put the struggles we had at the half on myself," Okaw Valley coach Brad Ackers said. "We started to get to the corner against the 1-2-2 zone and good things started happening backside for us and good things started opening up."

Okaw Valley debuted its press as well, which helped facilitate a few turnovers.

Few are more dangerous than Robinson in the press. She's listed at 5-10, but may have grown since the roster came out, and turned a couple of second-half steals into points to pull away. Her stat line was gaudy -- 20 points, five rebounds, five blocks, five steals and three assists.

"I should probably move my foot more, but it's always fun blocking people," Robinson said. "Me growing has really helped a lot with blocking shots."

The accuracy for the 3-pointer is still there, and it helped her drain her first career buzzer-beater -- she hit one from half court at the end of the first quarter.

"It was fun to watch that," she said. "The girls kind of got pumped up."

And while Robinson hit four 3s to keep Mount Pulaski's defense honest, Jeffers pounded her way inside to draw fouls. She went 7-of-10 from the line in the second half, finishing with 13 points.

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"It's just my game," said Jeffers, who noted she played football in fourth grade. "I've never had a very good outside shot, so working it into the lane has been my game. I just go for it. I've never been too afraid.

"I mean, I'm kind of short, but I've been working in the weight room to get stronger."

That's not lost on Ackers.

"She's a competitor, and when she puts her head down, I don't want to get in her way," he said.

Aren's take

Not their night

Mount Pulaski had a strong first quarter, punctuated by a 12-0 run, but couldn't replicate that later in the game.

Skylar Hayes, who routinely was scoring close to 20 points each game heading into Monday, couldn't find her shot. Part of it was Mount Pulaski never was able to get into its transition game, one of the sophomore's strong suits.

Hayes did finish with four assists.

Fellow sophomore Morgan May led the Toppers with nine points. 

Picking it up

It was Okaw Valley's first year in the Pana Thanksgiving tournament and playing 2A and 3A teams has helped the Wolves with their tempo.

"Pana was definitely a lot faster defense than what we're used to," Jeffers said. "So we're bringing the ball up quicker, making better passes and move the ball around.

"And working it to Paige, who has a beautiful shot."

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adow@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6978


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for the Herald & Review.

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