Salem — When Aly Herber and Dylainee Carmony went down for the count, the Crusaders went from the near unanimous 2A title favorite to a team facing an identity crisis. Having to adjust to life without Carmony and Herber has been difficult, with the highest points of the struggle coming in a blowout loss to rival #1 Gervais and a 12-point loss to 1A #1 Country Christian. While for most programs losing wouldn’t be a high struggle, it certainly has been for the Crusaders. Bailey Pedersen getting hurt certainly didn’t help, but with her return and some great play over their last five games, the Salem Academy is fighting to retain their 2A title contention. At one point it looked lost, the Crusaders have seemingly found it once again.
Let’s be clear: The road to the 2A title is one that will require some grit and buckling down for the Crusaders. The trio of Aubrey Smith, Bailey Pedersen, and Annabelle Brawley have become the new normal for Salem Academy in the past month, creating a new identity around players who have been thrusted into the spotlight on the go. These three have contributed to the rise back for the Crusaders and are the main threats on the floor for both sides of the ball. Freshman Lexi Herber has had to grow quickly with the loss of her sister Aly and Dylainee Carmony, stepping up into the role of playing post and adjusting to the life of such a rigorous schedule. While there are growing pains, she is in much better shape now than she was a month ago. Grace Hinkle has quietly contributed to the shaping of Salem Academy in recent games, showing the potential to break out on the floor if she catches fire, but she also does her job on defense and is reliable for the Crusaders every game out.
Thursday’s blowout win over #2 Colton is the latest example of the Salem Academy’s conformity to life and its current challenges. The trio took the game by storm on both sides of the ball, deploying a suffocating defensive pressure and lighting it up from the field on offense. Lexi Herber played well in the post and had some nice plays on both sides of the ball, pushing the Vikings far out of reach from victory 59-34 in a considerable statement win. Their rematch with #1 Gervais on January 25th will be the best measuring stick of Salem Academy and the progress they’ve made after two months shorthanded. The Cougars spanked them on their home floor, so can the Crusaders return a favor in Gervais? It’ll be a great battle and if they can both stay healthy, it might be a possible Final Four preview for March.