Small in number, Sun Valley making character count

ASTON — Sun Valley’s girls basketball team is dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Vanguards are getting by with just enough players to call themselves a team.

They’ve played a game with five players and a few with only six. In Tuesday’s 51-25 loss to West Chester Rustin, they had their full roster of seven players in uniform.

Seven. That’s it.

Coming into the season, coach Tony Zambino was cautiously optimistic he would have roughly 14 players in his program. Unfortunately, the pandemic caused seven players who were in the program last year, to opt out of the shortened season for safety reasons.

“We were hit hard,” Zambino said. “Last year we won six games and could’ve easily won 10. I felt confident we could pick up right where we left off, but the pandemic obviously is a problem.”

The Vanguards are a scrappy bunch, comprised of two seniors (Savannah Lewis and Savannah Miles), two juniors (Emily Kauffield and Melanna Timmes), two sophomores (Jania Preuhs and Rory Tiedeman) and a freshman (Olivia Hoy). The Vanguards (0-6) continue to stay positive as they remain in search of that elusive first victory in 2021.

Lewis, whose older sister, Mackenzie, was an All-Delco softball player at Sun Valley, is what Zambino calls “the glue” that keeps this young and small-in- numbers team together. She never imagined her senior season would include wearing a mask wherever she goes, staying home to attend virtual classes and keeping her fingers crossed that she’ll have a senior prom in the spring. But Lewis knows she has to maintain a positive mindset for the younger players on the team.

“I know I can’t let my emotions get the best of me because if I have my head down, they’re going to do the same,” she said. “So, yeah, I just try to stay positive the whole game and help (her teammates) out so that they can do the same next year.”

Preuhs and Tiedeman, who scored five points apiece Tuesday, have started every game since they came on board freshman year. They are the only club kids on the team, too, as both play the sport year-round for the Lower Wildcats AAU program. Tiedeman is a natural small forward, but is tasked with playing point guard. Preuhs is a natural shooter, but she is dipping her toes in every position on the floor.

“It’s hard because we only have two subs,” Tiedeman said. “Every time we’re out there, we’re constantly running because teams run on us. I try to work with everyone on the team, because that’s what we struggle with a lot, just making sure we’re working together every game. Individually, I try to shoot more. I’ve always been a big, but here I play more point guard.”

Going up against the Ches-Mont League’s best teams with more depth and talent (such as Rustin) should benefit Sun Valley’s young players as they continue to improve.

“The better the people you play against, the better you become,” Preuhs said. “That’s a good side of it, but the downside is that sometimes we don’t do so well against the those teams.”

To be fair, Sun Valley is playing at a disadvantage the moment the Vanguards step on the floor. Not many teams can be successful with only seven players. They are an immense underdog every night, but all seven players are giving Zambino their full effort.

It’s the little wins that count. For instance, after scoring just two points in the first quarter, the Vanguards were outscored by only 11 points the rest of the way. Tiedeman hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer as time expired in regulation. Freshman Olivia Hoy led the Vanguards with eight points.

“The younger players are setting a good example, they know what lies ahead of them,” Lewis said. “They’re all practicing really hard and they’re putting in the work during the games.”

There’s no quit in any of them, either.

“You saw tonight, I’m running plays until the very end,” Zambino said. “All these kids are good kids. They show up, they work hard, and they want to learn.”

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