Salado coach Diane Konarik and her Lady Eagles return to district play with considerable momentum Friday. Salado began the District 22-2A season with consecutive victories then closed out the calendar year by winning the Thorndale Shootout in style with a 69-27 victory against Austin Travis. Leading up to a road matchup with defending district champion Jarrell, Konarik spoke with Herald writer Jordan Mason.
Coming off the tournament (championship) do you feel like your team is getting hot right now?
I think we are starting to show our peak and understanding a little bit more of my defense and my style of play that I want. But I think they’re enjoying it. They’re seeing that hard work does pay off, and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of hard work.
How are they playing right now compared to where you want them to be this time of year?
I think we’re right where I want them to be. I don’t think they’re yet to the top, but they’re getting there and they’re seeing it a whole lot more. I see them enjoying the game a whole lot more and understanding more, so that’s a good thing.
What do you feel like has made this team successful to this point in the season?
I think offense wins games, defense wins championships, just like that quote says. I love defense. ... but we can put points on the board to win the games, too. We’re going to stop you from putting points (up), but we can also put points on the board. So, it’s a little bit of both, but I more lean to our defensive style, our defensive pressure and getting up and down the court with them. I think we’ve got a well-rounded group that they can do a lot of what I call scramble defense. We can run with some teams, and we can trap them, we’re so long and tall and lanky — I don’t want to say lanky because we’re strong — but we’re so long up front that when we’re quick to react we get a lot of steals or at least deflections.
I noticed you used that term “scramble defense” (after a game), what exactly do you mean by that?
It’s funny you asked that. It’s just a man-to-man defense, but we do a lot of jump switches out of what I call ups, downs and outs. It just depends on how the ball handler is being controlled by that defender. And they just read and react to that defender and how the ball handler’s handling her defense and they do the switches or the jump switches out of that.
How long do you feel like it takes your teams normally to adjust to that? Do you feel like this team has that down now?
I think (it takes) a good three years, but I’ve got some good leaders that kind of understand the game and understand what is going on that they can start to see it. Last year, I could tell we were about two steps away. This year, we’re more about a step away. I’m still waiting for that to where we’re there, and when we see it on film and everything they can see it and (say), “Oh, I should’ve moved, I should’ve moved.” So, they’re still in that process of learning, but this progressiveness of their defensive style they have built in them. I can’t teach aggressiveness to a kid. And they have it, they want it and that’s the fun thing about it.
Obviously, you have big names like (senior) Ashley Adams returning, but has anyone stepped up and surprised you this year with what they’ve been able to contribute?
Payton Dreitz has done real well. She was a freshman last year, and she did a little bit of things for me, and I think she’s really growing into her position on the court of being able to shoot as a post player. She does a great job every time I put her in. I can always count on her getting one or two offensive rebounds and being able to either put back a shot or get on the free throw line after getting fouled.
Abby Quick is another one that I can depend on just getting in there and working hard for me. Offensively or defensively, she’s got speed, she’s got the quickness that I need up and down the court. She’s got the aggressiveness and the “want-to” that the other girls do. She just was not there all the way offensively where I needed her to be. She’s still a little timid because she’s a sophomore, this is her first year on varsity, but she comes in there and she’ll work hard for me. She’s a very coachable kid; she’s a very polite kid. Carmella Perez is another one. Right now, I’m kind of hurt without her — she’s out with a knee injury right now — she should be back for the Jarrell game on Friday. She was real into her spot and understanding her spot a little more, becoming more of a leader and controlling the court as a point guard, knowing when to shoot the ball when she’s open and having that confidence level that I need her to have because she’s also got to put in shots.
And I love Rebecca Carroll. She’s like my team mom, she’s my team glue. She’s always going to be there for the girls, never heard her really say anything negative or bad. She’s always been the positive, uplifting one. She’s always been there regardless of if she gets playing time or not. She’s always been there and been encouraging and in the mix.