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Neuqua Valley's Bryce Menendez battles Metea Valley's Lori Obendorf for a rebound. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Bryce Menendez has yet to regularly put up big offensive numbers for Neuqua Valley, but that could be changing.
The 6-2 junior center is averaging eight points, 4.4 rebounds and two assists for the Wildcats (20-5), who have won eight straight. But during the winning streak, Menendez’s production has increased to 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Now in her third year on varsity, Menendez has drawn praise from her teammates.
“She gets us going before the game, during the game and in the locker room,” Neuqua Valley senior guard Niki Lazar said. “Usually seniors are leaders, but she just leads us. She does make big plays. When she needs to she’ll step up.”
That happens most frequently on defense. As one of the few tall players on a guard-oriented team, Menendez is called upon to be the last line of defense in the Wildcats’ 2-2-1 press and also be an intimidator in the half-court sets.
“I think if I’m a guard or a post player and I’m coming inside and I’m seeing her, just her presence alone will alter some shots,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “So she might get two or three blocks a game, but she alters seven or eight shots. Some of them go in, but most of them roll off the rim and she’s in position. And that’s really her role right now.”
It’s a role Menendez played well last Wednesday in a hard-fought 53-46 victory over South Elgin. With the Upstate Eight Valley lead on the line, Menendez scored only two points but had three blocks, including one in which she rejected a shot from Kennede Miller like she was spiking a volleyball.
“That was awesome,” Lazar said. “I love it when she does that because I can’t do that because I’m like 5-6. [Those blocks] are so key because they get us going.”
Menendez’s offensive game still needs work. She has shown occasional glimpses of being able to hit short jump shots but still struggles at times, as she did in going 1-for-6 against South Elgin.
“She’s been getting some scoring for us,” Williams said. “She had been doing a great job the last four games of just taking it to the basket. [In that game] she backed off a little. I said, ‘Just go back to what you’re doing.’
“She’s still raw but she’s a force inside for us, and that’s what you need. You need a tall, lanky kid.”
Metea stops the bleeding
After losing 11 of 15 games, Metea Valley has won its last two games, including a 44-25 victory Saturday over Waubonsie Valley that avenged an earlier 41-39 defeat. Does this mean Metea is back on the right track?
“That’s what we’re hoping,” Mustangs coach Kris Kalivas said. “[Against Waubonsie] we had some good intensity, we had good execution and good teamwork. We’re hoping that continues.”
As usual, senior star Jenny Voytell led the way with 16 points and four steals, but Kalivas was also pleased with the play of freshman guard Nikki Cast, who had one of her best games with eight points.
“She was looking for her shot,” Kalivas said. “She took some good shots and had some good offensive putbacks for us.”
Naperville North’s road game with Plainfield North has been postponed twice and now will be played Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. Benet’s away game with Downers Grove South was canceled, but the Redwings have added a home game against Glenbard South on Feb. 10.
In other rescheduled games, Metea Valley will host East Aurora on Tuesday, while Naperville Central hosts Waubonsie Valley on Feb. 10 and travels to Wheaton Warrenville South on Feb. 12.