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Perryville's dynamic duo
PERRYVILLE -- Ava Johnson recently asked fellow senior teammate Alicia Kueker how they matched up to former Perryville teammates Krista Miesner and Amber Hacker, who combined for 2,049 points from 2002 through 2006.
Johnson and Kueker were freshmen in 2006. They spent most varsity games sitting in the last two spots on the bench with their eyes fixed on Miesner and Hacker, who were guards and the team's two main scorers.
"It's hard to tell [if we[']re as good as they were as seniors]," Kueker said. "I think they were so much like we are. ... Amber was a great ball handler and Krista was just the same, and her shot was perfect."
Flash forward three years. Johnson and Kueker are the ones with the strong ball handling and perfect shots.
Johnson and Kueker take different approaches to basketball.
Kueker is focused solely on the sport and plays it year-round with AAU and traveling teams. She even played in Australia this past summer.
Johnson, on the other hand, typically focuses on basketball only during the winter season because she is a three-sport athlete and too busy during the basketball offseason with her other sports.
But either way, both 5-foot-6 guards, who are good friends off the court, have emerged as Perryville's two main scorers this year, and they have done it by playing aggressively.
They're the 2009 version of Miesner and Hacker.
Johnson is averaging 16.2 points per game, while Kueker has scored 14.4 points per game. They have combined for 429 of their team's 823 points.
Johnson and Kueker will lead the Pirates (8-6) into battle against crosstown opponent St. Vincent at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Perry Park Center in the annual rivalry game. The Indians and Pirates boys teams will square off right after at 4:30 p.m.
"This year, they've been called upon to score," Perryville coach Vicki Lohmann said about Johnson and Kueker. "I really kind of put it on their backs to take us and try to make us a better team. And that's what they've done.
"They've really stepped up, especially in the second part of the season when they've needed to."
In addition to basketball, Johnson plays volleyball and soccer. She has started on the soccer team since her freshman year and has started on the volleyball and basketball teams since her sophomore year. She loves all the sports equally and hasn't decided which sport she wants to focus on in college.
"If I had to choose a sport, I don't think I could," Johnson said. "I like a variety."
Meanwhile, Kueker is sold on basketball. The senior, who has played varsity soccer but likely will not this spring, is focused on basketball and knows she wants to play basketball in college. Kueker has traveled to different states to play and even was selected last summer to play in the Down Under Sports tournament in Australia, where she was on a team that finished second. Kueker said that with basketball, unlike some other sports she has played, she looks forward to practice every day and wishes practices lasted longer.
"Basketball is definitely her life," Johnson said about Kueker.
But during the wintertime, basketball is both Kueker's and Johnson's life.
"Ever since our freshman year it has just clicked [between us] just because we always liked basketball," Kueker said.
Johnson and Kueker both have been three-year starters on varsity. And they have been captains since their junior season.
They always have been scorers. The two have combined for 1,546 points during their varsity high school careers. Johnson has 823 career points, while Kueker has 723.
They knew they had to step up their scoring even more this year after the team graduated three senior starters off last year's squad, which won 20 games and finished 9-0 in the Jefferson County Conference. The 2007-08 Pirates had a balanced offensive attack, including four players averaging more than 11 points per game.
"Last year we had five solid scorers," Kueker said. "This year it's all on our backs."
Kueker and Johnson had a disappointing start to the season. The Pirates scored just 26 points in their season opener, which they lost by 43 points to Notre Dame. Kueker had only eight points and Johnson didn't score in the contest. After that, they felt even more of a sense of urgency to step up as the team's two main scorers. And they have.
Johnson is averaging 4.5 more points per game than she did last year and Kueker, a point guard, is averaging 3.4 more points than she did as a junior.
"I think it's just that any given night [one of us] were just on," Johnson said. "When she's on, I keep feeding the ball to her. Whenever I have more points, she's feeding the ball to me."
Kueker added: "If she [Johnson] is on fire, I just give her the ball."
Both have had some monster offensive performances. Johnson netted 28 points against Jackson. She has scored 20 or more in five games, including doing it in four of her past five games.
Kueker posted 34 points against St. Pius and 27 against Windsor. She has scored 15 or more points in five contests.
"We definitely like to be aggressive," Johnson said. "We think that we should hustle and grab everything we can get. ... Say I go get the steal. Kueker is up the floor already because she knows that I'm going for that ball."
Aggressiveness and speed are two important factors that Kueker and Johnson use to help them score since both are relatively small players at 5-6 with their shoes on, Johnson said.
Lohmann said that ever since Johnson and Kueker were sophomores, they have been the ones creating steals, hustling for loose balls and playing pesky defense.
Johnson and Kueker have combined for 81 steals and 86 rebounds this year.
"Size, it kind of makes it difficult sometimes if you have a lengthy guard on you, but I think Kueker and myself have quick enough of a step and enough ball handling to try to get around them," Johnson said. "We're aggressive players, so we're going to try to do whatever we can to make it happen."
Kueker said that a key to her and Johnson's scoring has been the ability to get open 3-point shots.
Both are shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and have combined to score 40 of their team's 45 successful 3-pointers.
"We shoot a lot of 3s," said Kueker, who feels best shooting from the top of the key.
Kueker and Johnson believe at least one of them must have a strong scoring game for Perryville to win.
"If we both had an off night, it probably wouldn't be good," Kueker said. "Not that I don't trust them [the other players]. But I think they rely on us a lot."
Although Kueker and Johnson acknowledge that how their play influences the team's success, they don't take away anything from the rest of the team. Johnson said she and Kueker could not score at the rate they are without the rest of the team doing its part, including junior Emily Hanquist, who has had some big offensive games. Hanquist is averaging 13.9 points per contest and leads the team with 81 rebounds.
Still, Kueker and Johnson are the players with the most experience. They said their varsity experience helps them understand how to read the floor, distribute passes and work the ball inside and outside better than the younger girls. They said they are helping explain these aspects of the game to the younger players.
And Johnson and Kueker both hope some of the sophomores look up to them and watch them in the same way they used to look up to Miesner and Hacker.
"I'm glad they were there our freshman year because we looked up to them so much," Kueker said about Miesner and Hacker. "I think now, hopefully, it's kind of the same thing for the younger girls [watching us]."