What we learned from Sacred Heart's blowout win over Southwestern

·5 min read
Sacred Heart girl's basketball team poses for a picture following its 74-43 win over Southwestern on Monday Nov. 29, 2021.
Sacred Heart girl's basketball team poses for a picture following its 74-43 win over Southwestern on Monday Nov. 29, 2021.

Heading into the 2021-2022 girls basketball season, word out of Sacred Heart was that the defending champions were even better. It may be early, but after the Valkyries' 74-43 blowout win over Southwestern on Monday night, the rumors look to be true.

Led by Regan Bender's 19 points, the Valkyries improved to 1-0 on the season and will return to the court on Friday to face Manual. Here are three takeaways from the Valkyries' season opener.

ZaKiyah Johnson is the real deal

Sacred Heart's ZaKiyah Johnson.
Sacred Heart's ZaKiyah Johnson.

All eyes were on freshman guard ZaKiyah Johnson, and she didn't disappoint in her Valkyrie debut. Johnson — who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and four assists — shot 50%from the field and was a staple for Sacred Heart's defense.

Despite being a freshman, Johnson is regarded as one of the best players in the state. The Valkyries have strong senior leadership, but Johnson is quickly showing she can be a leader on the squad.

Previously: This 8th-grade basketball star already rocketing to 'bright future' at high school level

To start the game she immediately took the ball down court, pulled up and sank the Valkyries first two points of the season. Any shred of nerves for the game disappeared for Johnson after that.

"It kind of you know helped me push throughout the rest of the game like "OK, I'm here I got all the jitters out," Johnson said. " That was the point I knew I was ready to play."

Johnson's arrival is one of the main reasons why Sacred Heart's expected to repeat as champions. For those who hoped the Valkyries would struggle with her acclimation to the team, I'm sorry to deliver the bad news, but Johnson fits this team like a glove.

"She's got another gear and she's an elite player," Sacred Heart coach Donna Moir said. "But the best thing about her is she fits right in."

The Usual Suspects

Sacred Heart's  Josie Gilvin and Reagan Bender celebrate as the Valkyries defeat Anderson County 63-53 at the Sweet 16 semifinal game at Rupp Arena. April 10, 2021
Sacred Heart's Josie Gilvin and Reagan Bender celebrate as the Valkyries defeat Anderson County 63-53 at the Sweet 16 semifinal game at Rupp Arena. April 10, 2021

Remember when Kevin Durant first joined the Warriors and on nights where he didn't play we'd pretend like Golden State was suddenly beatable?

That level of delusion is where I'd rank the idea that Sacred Heart is just the ZaKiyah Johnson show. At the end of the day, this is the defending state champions returning most of the pieces that won said championship.

At point guard, Triniti Ralston led the the Valkyries in scoring last season (13.2 ppg) but she thinks this year she'll be able to embrace her inner playmaker.

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"I just want to make sure that everybody gets involved," Ralston said. "I don't think that I have to score a lot. I don't have to score most of the points on the team, just as long as the team's involved we've got this."

The Valkyrie that did the most damage on the offensive end was forward Reagan Bender. Bender finished the night with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds. Bender's efficient shooting night (7-of-11 from the field) was a sign that Sacred Heart doesn't plan on forcing the ball to anyone this season. It could be Ralston, Johnson, Bender or any given player on the Valkyrie's roster that gets hot on a given night.

"I think we have every piece," Bender said. "Almost anybody on our bench can score the ball, so I think playing together if we work together as well as we did last year we can definitely get the state championship again."

Strength in numbers

Sacred Heart’s Donna Moir coaches her team against Knott County Central. 04/07/21
Sacred Heart’s Donna Moir coaches her team against Knott County Central. 04/07/21

Only a handful of teams around the state, maybe even the country, can matchup with a starting five of ZaKiyah Johnson, Triniti Ralston, Reagan Bender, Josie Gilvin and Alexandra Wolff. But what makes the Valkyries an overwhelming force is the depth of their bench.

Moir says the Valkyries roll 11 deep, and we got to see a glimpse of that. The entire team played in Monday's game and nine scored points. As the Valkyries tread deeper into the season expect to see a these trio of players carve out great roles off the bench.

Angelina Pelayo is a rebounding machine. In only 13 minutes of play, she led the Valkyries off the bench with nine points and eight rebounds. Her length makes her a tough presence in the post and an excellent breather for Wolff.

Sienna Slaughter is one of the more interesting pieces on the Valkyries roster. She's listed as a forward/center but has guard like quickness. She's another long, lanky defender that can find her own shot in the second unit.

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Sacred Heart's bench outscored Southwestern 19-15 and it'll be interesting to see how that fluctuates throughout the season. Players like Pelayo, Slaughter, Olivia Kaufman and Claire Russell deserve minutes but is that going to come at the expense of Ralston, Johnson's or Bender's minutes?

Managing all this talent isn't the worst problem for a coach to have and Moir is finding it to be quite rewarding. Her team has shooting, depth, experience, length and hunger. There's strength in numbers and the Valkyries are primed to reap the benefits.

Follow Courier Journal reporter J.L. Kirven on Twitter @JL_Kirven for more updates on Louisville prep sports.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: KHSAA basketball: Takeaways from Sacred Heart's win over Southwestern

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