SALEM-Two teams going in decidedly different directions met Wednesday at Cabas Gymnasium.
The Salem Quakers are gathering confidence after a rough start, while the United Eagles are stuck in a rut, with many players struggling to find their way.
The Quakers came out swinging from the opening tip and never really let up, dispatching the Eagles, 51-30.
The win is Salem's third in the last four games and improves the Quakers to 5-9. The Eagles drop to 6-7 and have lost four straight.
"We have been constantly improving," Salem coach Steve Stewart said. "We are such a different team than we were a month ago. On both sides of the ball our confidence is growing. I'm very happy for the girls to start to experience that success."
The Quakers got contributions up and down their roster. Sophomore Olivia Stiff had 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Julia Dundon was on the money, sinking five three-pointers for a season-high 15 points and five rebounds. Freshman Chloe Cheresne was a constant presence on the boards with 13 rebounds.
"At the beginning of the season we were playing more individually, but now we are playing a lot more as a unit on both offense and defense," Stiff said. "We worked really well together tonight."
Salem established the tone right away with point guard Megan Lehwald running a patient offense and limiting turnovers. Dundon knocked down two open threes in the first quarter as the Quakers built a 14-4 lead.
"We did a great job off passing the ball around and waiting for a good shot," Lehwald said. "Our chemistry on the court has come a long way."
While the Quakers seemed to be moving in unison much of the night, the Eagles were a team with much to sort out. Senior point guard Mackenzie Gatchel scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but the Quakers shut off everyone else.
"We are really struggling to find our identity right now," United coach Sam Mathias said. "Salem came out and smacked us around in the first quarter. We could never really establish momentum."
From the first quarter on, Gatchel did virtually all of the United scoring. The senior scored over half of the Eagles points. MacKenzie Firth was the only other player with more than two points.
"Finding more scoring options will be huge for us going forward," Mathias said. "We should have five scoring options on the floor at all times. It goes back to confidence. The girls have to want the ball in their hands. Until they get that mindset, we are going to struggle."
Salem still led by double digits in the third quarter when Gatchel did her best to keep the Eagles in touch. Three times United cut the lead to single digits and all three times Dundon answered with threes.
"It was tough," Mathias said. "Mackenzie (Gatchel) got us going for a little while, but we couldn't get a stop. They executed their offense very well."
The Quakers went on a 12-4 run in the fourth to grow their lead to 16. An uncontested lay-up by Lehwald removed all doubt with five minutes left.
"With this team, I think success has started to breed success," Stewart said. "We have started work work a lot harder lately and we didn't let up for the entire game tonight."
In the other locker room, the Eagles-experiencing an unfamiliar down season-will keep searching for answers.
"The girls are giving effort, they are doing everything we ask of them," Mathias said. "We just have mental breakdowns at certain points that hurt our momentum. Maintaining our confidence level is a big thing for us right now."
UNITED: Sydney Moats 1-0-2, Mackenzie Gatchel 6-0-17, Lindsey Donato 0-0-0, MacKenzie Firth 2-1-5, Jenna Plummer 1-0-2, Kassie Chestnut 1-0-2, Lauren Beech 0-0-0, Morgan Smith 1-0-2, Shanna Miller 0-0-0. TEAM TOTALS: 13, 1-6: 30.
SALEM SCORING: Tori Jones 3-0-6, Megan Lehwald 2-2-6, Julia Dundon 5-0-15, Olivia Stiff 4-2-10, Hailey Carner 2-0-4, Chloe Cheresne 1-3-5, Rylee Meals 0-2-2, Raegan Meals 0-3-3. TEAM TOTALS: 17, 12-22: 51.
Three-point goals: United 3 (Gatchel 3), Salem 5 (Dundon 5).