COCOLAMUS - One of the goals the Juniata girls basketball team established before the season began was to win the Juniata County Christmas Tournament.
Thursday, that's exactly what the Indians did.
With the 41-22 victory over East Juniata, the Indians celebrated the second year in a row they were able to win the tournament. And this year, it was evident from early in the game that the Indians were going to be able to defend their title.
Offensively, Juniata had great floor awareness in the first quarter, and it wasn't long until strong passing and cuts in the paint resulted in a 13-4 lead.
In the second quarter, it was more of the same as a pair of 3-pointers from Janelle Swartz and Victoria Varner, plus work inside from Maddie Zendt and a foul shot by Carly Burns, resulted in a 24-9 lead headed into the half.
In the whole first half, Juniata was just cutting the Tigers' defense to ribbons - finding openings from both inside and from beyond the arc - and this was what it took for the Indians to run away with the victory.
Juniata coach Meghan Geedey credited her team's unselfish play in its first half offensive output.
"They're so unselfish. They're just looking to find the open person, and I thought we really did a nice job doing that in the zone," she said.
Juniata certainly was unselfish.
Six different Indians scored in the contest, with top scorers being Joelle Winey (10), Varner (9) and Swartz (8). This is compared to East Juniata's five scorers, who were led by Lauren Maguire and Caitlin Hoover with eight points apiece.
But if Juniata's offense was on fire in the first half of the game, it was the defense that kept the score to such a large margin.
In its best quarter, East Juniata scored only nine points, and this was in large part because of Juniata's defense.
Juniata had a half-court trap that gave the Tigers trouble all game long.
"We think we are pretty versatile on defense," Geedey said. "We've really hung our hat on defense this year. These kids have completely bought into the fact that if you can play defense you're in any game. When shots aren't falling, you're stopping people."
This ability to hold the opponent while the shooting was dry became important for Juniata in the third quarter. In this quarter, East Juniata put up its best attempt at a come back, as the Tigers outscored Juniata 9-5, and many of these points came from the Tigers' all-tournament selection, Maguire.
Maguire hit five of her eight points in the third, and coupled with Hoover's four, it turned out to be the Tigers' strongest quarter, but it was not nearly enough to recover from the large deficit the Indians had created in the first half.
Juniata's Joelle Winey was voted tournament MVP and Varner received all-tournament recognition.
Geedey said that Winey has been a scoring threat all season, but that as her team has learned to look for her in the paint, she has really started to produce for the Indians.
East Juniata (5-3) and Juniata (7-1) both have off until Jan. 4, when they again face off at East Juniata High School. In fact, the two will meet for three consecutive Fridays, with their second Tri-Valley League game slated for Jan. 11.