How one senior led Sangamon Valley/Tri-City to victory after COVID-19 pause

·4 min read
Jordan Closs
Jordan Closs

RIVERTON — Nothing suggested this was Jordan Closs’ first game this month.

The 5-foot-8 senior guard/forward rushed out of the gates with 12 points by halftime and led the Sangamon Valley/Buffalo Tri-City girls basketball team to a 41-35 victory over North Mac in Monday’s opener of the Lady Hawk Christmas Classic.

“It’s a little different for sure,” Closs said of returning from a long hiatus, “but it was fun to be back out there.”

WAIT NO MORE

The Storm (3-5) last competed on Dec. 2 after the Tri-City school district paused all athletic activities the following week due to COVID-19. It was even longer for Closs, who began December in quarantine.

No matter.

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Closs scored the first two field goals en route to 16 points and 13 rebounds in Monday’s win.

“I was excited to get back,” Closs said. “I had a high energy level — anything to do to get the lead up.”

Sangamon Valley coach Tony Nika said girls from both schools reunited during the Christmas break, but this was the first time everyone was actually together.

“I was sweating all night coming into this all nervous because we haven’t played in forever,” Nika said. “But to come out and get the ‘W’ felt nice.”

The Storm trailed 13-11 by the end of the first quarter but rallied ahead 25-24 at halftime featuring a pivotal 3 from Closs in the second quarter. Sophomore guard Kamryn Sturdy added seven points. Senior forwards Chloe Sims and Rebecca Moxley chipped in six points apiece.

Sangamon Valley’s defense limited North Mac to just four field goals in the second half and forced 21 turnovers all together.

“We talked it about in our pregame,” Nika said. “We just talked about finding our rhythm, let’s not get too bent out of shape. Let’s got out there and play aggressive — play good defense because we’ve always said if we play good defense we’re going to have a shot. The offense will come.

“In the second half, we were able to lock down more on defense and score when we needed to score. We got to playing our style of basketball in the second half.”

FAIR SHARE OF ADVERSITY

Sangamon Valley already had to confront a different type of challenge at the start of the season. It lost one of its premier players, junior center Sarah Finley, to a season-ending injury over the volleyball season.

Finley averaged 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game and was named all-MSM second team last season. That forced Nika to concoct a different game plan around Closs, who averaged 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game and earned All-MSM First Team last season.

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“She’s been a four-year starter for us – a great kid,” Nika said of Closs. “We really challenged her this year to really step up as a leader and she’s really been getting better at that as we go. When she goes, we go. The games we’ve won this year, she’s had to get 15-plus points and really set the tone then the others are able to step up.”

Nika said losing Finley was a huge loss, but none of his players have made any excuses about it.

That includes Sturdy, aka Buddha, at point guard.

“She handles the ball really well,” Closs said. “She gets me the ball and she scores a little bit from the point guard spot, so it’s good for her. She’s stepped up a lot being a sophomore handling the ball and all that pressure.”

LEARNING FROM THE BEST

Closs, who will play softball at NAIA University of St. Francis in Illinois, said she looked up to Sturdy’s older sister, Ashlyn, as an underclassman. Ashlyn set the program record for points (2,054), assists (549) and steals (503).

“Ashlyn taught me everything,” Closs said. “She was such a good competitor, so she made me a better player, especially my freshman and sophomore year playing against her when she was a little bit older. She always pushed me to be a better player."

Nika played Closs everywhere on the floor Monday. During the third quarter, Closs doffed double teams by going to the post.

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“Last year I was point guard, but Buddha came up and he (Nika) was like, ‘We want you to score more, so we want Buddha to be point guard,’” Closs said. “I’m kind of bigger for a guard and Nika tries to play me both (guard and forward) just to give me points and looks if I’m off on my 3-pointers. I can go into the post and score a little bit there.”

Closs is embracing the moment.

“We had a lot of complications with COVID and Sarah (getting injured), but we’ve really pushed through and everyone’s stayed positive and we just kept working through it,” Closs said.

Contact Bill Welt: bill.welt@sj-r.com, Twitter.com/BillWelt

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: IHSA girls basketball: Jordan Closs sparks Sangamon Valley/Tri-City

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