Upper Dublin put the ball in Jackie Vargas’ hands and let her do the rest.
It was certainly a different look, with the 6-foot-2 center basically playing point guard for the Cardinals for most of the second half in Monday’s state semifinal against Souderton. Not only was it a unique look, but it showed just how much trust UD coach Morgan Funsten has in the sophomore.
Vargas made the most of it, scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and helping the Cardinals to a 26-25 win and their first-ever state title game.
“We kind of said ‘here you go Jack, show them what you’ve got,’” Funsten said on Monday. “She showed them. She got them in foul trouble, she attacked the basket as well as she has in her two years so far. It’s crazy we’re talking about a sophomore here.”
This week’s weather has forced a change in the entire state tournament schedule. The Cardinals will now face CB South for the 6A girls title at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Hershey’s Giant Center after the PIAA moved all of this weekend’s games to early next week.
When UD takes the floor against the Titans, it will be looking for Vargas to continue her strong play this postseason. She’s already made huge strides from last year to this season but has shown more growth during states on both ends of the floor.
“I realized I can do more than just stand in the post and make a move,” Vargas said. “I can dribble, I can drive. I’ve been trying to show that later on through this season.”
Upper Dublin has been backed by a large, loud and supportive student section all postseason and the Cardinals faithful have taken to chanting “Trust the Process” every time Vargas scores or blocks a shot. She’s not an All-Star NBA center like Joel Embiid, but Vargas is a high-upside post player who’s only getting better.
Within the team, the other players call those moments Vargas’ “Beast Mode” and it’s up to guards Maggie Weglos and Jess Polin to activate it. The two have taken to mimicking hitting a series of buttons to “activate” the center on the bench before she’s introduced.
“She’s great one-on-one with any defender, she can do whatever she wants,” Polin said. “She can shoot from the outside too. Getting her the ball is key on our team, but everyone on our team can shoot or drive.”
Vargas and Polin combined on the game’s decisive play. The freshman guard explained the set was supposed to have Vargas attack her defender, but the sophomore made a point guard decision, passing to Polin who in turn drove and drew a shooting foul to knock down the winning free throw.
Funsten has given Vargas more responsibility this year, partially because the sophomore has asked for it. Against Abington in the state quarterfinals, UD ran its first play to set up a Vargas 3-pointer, which she hit and the center scored the team’s first five points.
It was her defense in that game that really got Funsten’s attention though.
“Her leadership is improving daily as well and she’s starting to understand what it’s like to be part of something special like this,” Funsten said. “Before the Abington game, she sent me a long email about how she wanted to defend Kassondra Brown. It was not a result of what she thought, she spent an hour and a half the night before watching tape and she thought she could have more success defending a certain way than how we recommended she do it.”
That alone spoke volumes to Funsten. Not only was Vargas putting in the extra work outside of the gym, but she had the confidence in herself to be up front with her coach and ask to guard one of the best post players in the state.
Vargas in turn credited the team’s upperclassmen for making her feel comfortable from the first day of practice last year. She cited Demi Balasa, a senior last year and current senior co-captains Maggie Weglos and Nicole Kaiser for constantly providing support and encouragement to the underclassmen.
Even when the Cardinals were struggling to win close games, they never stopped and in turn, the rest of the team followed their lead.
“We wanted to prove something to everybody, I don’t think a lot of people thought we would be here,” Vargas said. “We talked about it a lot, we talked about it as a team why we couldn’t do that. I think part of it was we didn’t believe we could. The seniors kept telling us we could do this, we had to believe in ourselves and they’re such great role models they kept enforcing that.”
UD will need another strong performance against the Titans on both ends of the floor if it wants to finish this historic run with a win.
Vargas has shown what she can do the latter half of this season, but she’s far from reaching the full height of her potential. As much as Upper Dublin is enjoying the present, the sophomore has shown there’s a bright future ahead as well.
“If she can match the improvement she made from freshman to sophomore year, there’s no limit with her,” Funsten said. “She can do it all. She doesn’t try to do too much. She lets the game come to her and she’s really the complete package.”
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