Valley’s Stellar Season Ends in State Semifinals
When Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt took a good look at the Valley Regional girls’ basketball team’s roster for the 2022 season, she knew that the Warriors were capable of making a major run in the playoffs. Coach Bickelhaupt was right as Valley went on to have a sensational campaign that saw the squad finish with an overall record of 22-5 while advancing to the semifinals of the Class M State Tournament—the deepest that the team has made it in states since 1999.
Valley Regional took a 57-50 defeat against Holy Cross in a Class M semifinal contest at Maloney High School on March 14. Despite the loss, Coach Bickelhaupt was proud of her players for giving every ounce of energy they had while taking on an undefeated Holy Cross team in the state semis.
“Overall, I think the girls played tremendously hard. They gave it their all and, unfortunately, we came up short, but I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them,” Bickelhaupt said. “They left it all out on the court that night. 22-5 isn’t a bad record for a team who hasn’t been in this position since 1999.”
No. 5 seed Valley Regional traveled to Meriden to play top-seeded Holy Cross in the semifinal round of the Class M State Tournament. The Warriors trailed 30-19 at halftime, but worked themselves back into the game in the second half, pulling within four points during the third quarter. Despite outscoring Holy Cross 16-12 in the fourth, Valley missed some key free throws in the final period and went on to drop a 57-50 decision to the Crusaders, who defeated Bacon Academy 61-38 in the final to win the state title with a record of 27-0.
“I liked the controllable aspects our girls took care of in these state games. We’ve been on them all year about the effort, communication, [and] staying even, and that was finally strong in our state games, among other things,” said Bickelhaupt. “We didn’t take care of the ball as much as I’d like as well as our rebounding effort. This has been a problem all year and, against good teams, they’ll capitalize on those mistakes, which is what happened in the Holy Cross game.”
Junior captain Abby Bradbury scored 19 points for the Warriors versus Holy Cross, while fellow junior Lily Grow had 16 points in the contest. Sophomore Olivia Cunningham scored 8 points, and senior captain Ava Cunningham had 3 points. Senior captain Bitzy Klomp and junior Siena Schaller added 2 points apiece.
Bradbury garnered All-Shoreline Conference First Team accolades for Valley Regional this season. Grow made the All-Shoreline Second Team, and Ava Cunningham earned Honorable Mention in the conference.
“Each game, someone else stepped up or had a good game, which is why we’re so good,” Bickelhaupt said. “But in the final game, Abby and Lily had a great offensive game for us. I think Ava and Olivia both had good defensive games. They kept girls in front of them and gave it their all on the boards against some great post players.”
While she feels proud about how much her squad accomplished this year, Coach Bickelhaupt knows that Valley will be striving to take the next step and claim a state title next season. Bickelhaupt wants to see her team lower its turnover rate and improve with its rebounding for the 2023 campaign.
“The three things that gave us problems this year were ball handling, decision making, and rebounding,” said Bickelhaupt. “Individually, we need to hit the weight room and get stronger. That will elevate our game in different ways, as well.”
Valley will be bidding farewell to graduating senior captains Ava Cunningham and Klomp next year. Coach Bickelhaupt knows that it will be no easy task to replace two exceptional leaders who helped her team reach the Shoreline Conference final prior to making the semifinals of states this winter.
“Both seniors are going to be a huge loss for our program,” Bickelhaupt said. “Ava is the true leader on and off the floor. She’s the person I go to for everything. She gets girls together, organizes anything with the team, relays messages, and more. She’s also the floor general and solid defensive player on the floor.”
“Bitzy has been someone we turn to for any sort of defensive need,” Bickelhaupt continued. “She’s the quickest girl on the floor at almost all times. We go to her to shut down other team’s best players. Those are both big shoes to fill, and we’re going to miss them tremendously.”
Coach Bickelhaupt feels that this year marked a turning point for the Valley girls’ basketball program. Bickelhaupt looks forward to seeing how Warriors keep progressing both next season and beyond.
“This team has been the true turning point to this program, and I can’t thank them enough for the effort and attitude they brought this year. They bought in when I got here their sophomore and freshman years and were with me through the trenches to get to this point,” said Bickelhaupt. “Although we didn’t win anything this year on paper, they learned what true hard work, teamwork, and adversity was, and how to deal with that in order to be successful. In my book, that’s the true win and why I coach.”
The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team’s roster for the 2022 season featured senior captains Ava Cunningham and Bitzy Klomp; junior captain Abby Bradbury; juniors Siena Schaller, Lily Grow, and Elizabeth Allen; sophomores Sharmel Rivera and Olivia Cunningham; and freshmen Rubee Cecchini, Emma Gibson, and Regan Grow.