Maya Meredith

For the Valparaiso women’s basketball team, the bracket is set for the opening round of the Horizon League Tournament.

They open up on Friday taking on a Youngstown State team they split within a pair of regular season meetings, and if they win, they will take on the Horizon League juggernaut -- the Green Bay Phoenix.

If the Crusaders are going to get deep into the weekend, a lot of things must happen, but I’m not sure any of them is more important than bench production.

This bench, which consists of a pair of freshmen in Maya Meredith and Grace Hales, a senior center in Haylee Thompson, an athletic sophomore guard in Georgi Donchetz, and a sophomore shooter in Allison Schofield has all the pieces to contribute in a big way in a tournament format.

Meredith, who is a flashy point guard with good playmaking ability, has really started to come along in the back half of the conference season. She closed out the regular season with four straight games of three or more assists.  With her being the backup point guard to Hannah Schaub, her playmaking off the bench can really open up things offensively.

Hales, who is known as one of the better shooters on the roster, finished off the year scoring eight or more points in four out of her last five games.  Not only did she knock down at least one three in three of those games, but also showed signs of being able to knock down the midrange jump shot and get to the rim. Hales’ success offensively can be a big piece of a tournament run.

Thompson, one of two seniors on Valparaiso’s roster, plays the backup center role behind Amber Lindfors. Thompson brings leadership and a physical player who can rebound the ball well.  If Lindfors is in foul trouble in a game, Thompson has shown she can be a capable player on both sides of the floor. She scored seven or more in both games that Lindfors missed this year, and has had multiple other strong performances off the bench.

Donchetz, who is a junior captain, has been a key piece to this team all year long.  At times, she’s jumped into the starting lineup to fill in for an injured piece. Donchetz is known as the spark plug and coming off the bench, this is something needed for this team. She’s put together a fantastic season averaging over five points a game and three rebounds, while also being third on the team in assists. Donchetz is a well-rounded player and can take over a game occasionally.

Lastly, Schofield, who didn’t see too much time on the floor a year ago, has turned into a legitimate scoring option in her second season at Valparaiso. She’s scored the ball consistently with six or more points in each of her last four games. Given her ability to shoot from beyond the arc and occasionally catch fire, she can be a weapon for this Crusader team this upcoming weekend.

While it’s obvious that Valparaiso will need big weekends from some of their stars, bench production will be equally crucial. These five players have shown the ability to produce at a high level, and I think given the way some of them have played lately, are the key to the Crusaders having success.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

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