ASTON – Jaina Preuhs and Rory Tiedeman were freshmen when coach Anthony “Tony” Zambino was hired to take over the Sun Valley girls basketball program.
At the time Zambino was excited to have both players. He knew with Preuhs and Tiedeman on the roster, the future was bright for the Vanguards.
With their high school careers winding down, the guards are hoping to make the district playoffs for the first time. The Vanguards are competing for one of the final spots in the District 1 Class 5A tournament.
Since they were freshmen Preuhs and Tiedeman have been penciled in as starters. Preuhs is in her fourth season and Tiedeman her third after missing all of 2021-22 with a knee injury.
“They are both really, really good seniors,” Zambino said. “They’re low-key, they’re not the loud and boisterous types. But they get their message across. Honestly, they’re really great kids and I’m happy to have them.”
Tuesday night the senior leaders guided the Vanguards in another must-win situation. Preuhs poured in a game-high 17 points and Tiedeman added seven in Sun Valley’s 46-36 victory over Freire Charter of the Philadelphia Public League.
With the win, SV bolstered its overall record to 9-11 with two games left against Ches-Mont League foe Unionville and Academy Park. If the Vanguards want to qualify for the district tourney, they have to win both contests and get some help along the way.
“I think it would mean a lot to not just me and Jaina, but the whole team. We have shown that we are capable of getting there,” said Tiedeman, who added four rebounds, three steals, an assist and one blocked shot. “I think it can motivate the younger girls to keep trying to get to the playoffs and keep playing hard.”
Another reason the Vanguards are inspired to sneak into the playoffs? They want to make Zambino, who lives and breathes coaching this team, a happy camper.
“I feel like it would definitely be a big deal for Coach Z because I think he wants it more than all of us,” said Preuhs, who dished out five assists. “He wants it so bad and his energy really motivates us.”
Preuhs and Tiedeman are setting an example for their younger teammates, acting as a pair of extra coaches on the floor. They are the lone seniors on a squad that includes two juniors, two sophomores and seven freshmen.
“(Zambino) is always looking for us to control the floor no matter what, if we’re on the bench or in the game,” Tiedeman said. “If one of us comes out he’ll make sure to leave the other one in so that we can be out there to help the younger players.”
Two first-year players, guard Alison Riley and power forward Luci D’Amico, were in the starting lineup and performed key roles for the Vanguards Tuesday. Riley had all six of her points after halftime to go with two assists and a pair of thefts. D’Amico collected five points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“We always want to encourage the competition (for the underclassmen) and I’m really glad they came up and were able to make us better,” said Preuhs, who will play soccer at Holy Family in the fall. “The younger players have definitely helped this year.”
Freire Charter controlled the pace early and held a 12-9 lead after eight minutes. SV applied a relentless full-court press in the second quarter and its defense led to easy buckets on the other end. The Vanguards shut out the Dragons, 12-0, and forced them to commit 11 turnovers in the period. Preuhs sank a 3-pointer before the buzzer to give SV a commanding 24-12 lead at intermission.
Behind hot shooting from Kylah Hargrove (13 points) Freire scored eight straight points in the third quarter to cut its deficit to six points, 26-20. Zambino took a timeout and the Vanguards scored 10 of the next 11 points in the quarter. SV shot 8 of 9 at the free-throw line in the second half.
“The girls responded. They’ve done that most of the year,” Zambino said. “We started the year 0-5 and had to battle ourselves out of a hole. We got to 5-7 and then dug ourselves another hole because we had to go through the league schedule a second time. We have to keep fighting.”
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