CHEROKEE, Iowa | Payton Slaughter has been reading the open court and anticipating situations, defensively and offensively, for as long as she can remember.
Former Briar Cliff cager Brandon Slaughter embedded these skills to his daughter at an early age. Could it be the current assistant on Heath Hagberg’s Cherokee girls basketball coaching staff was trying to create a guard with talents to match the woman he met at the same college and married, Wendy Hammen, who posted career totals of 2,066 points and 365 steals?
The Sioux City Journal’s Siouxland Athlete of the Week will never quite know the answer that question. Payton Slaughter’s contributions for the No. 4 (Class 2A) 20-1 Braves are well-beyond averaging a career-best 15.3 points per game for the state’s highest-scoring team (78.0 ppg).
During each of her three varsity seasons on teams which have averaged 75 points or better, Slaughter has recorded well-over 100 steals and 100 assists. The future BCU Charger, who missed her entire junior season because of an ACL injury, enters Tuesday night’s 2A regional home quarterfinal against West Lyon with 150 steals and 127 assists, statistics which translate to averages of 7.1 steals and 6.1 assists per game.
“Dad has coached me from age nine until now,” said the 18-year old senior, who has played for teams that have combined for a 64-8 record which includes a 2-2 state tournament mark.
“I was in first grade when he made me dribble up and down the court. He’s been pushing me forever. He taught me how to read body language. He taught me to think where would you be (on the court) where the person would be throwing next. He taught me point guard skills. Most of my game is defense.”
True. Slaughter has 13 games of seven or more steals this season and 16 with at least six.
Three of her four double-doubles this season involve both points and steals. She has three career state tournament games of 10 or more points and rebounds, despite her 5-foot-6 height.
“It’s something I can’t explain,” said Slaughter. “You go where you feel you need to be to guard. When I came back from my ACL, I felt I was a step slow. I couldn’t get there in time. But I’ve got that back. I’m thankful Coach Hagberg has worked with me forever and for my dad. All of this is not possible without my teammates. You can’t play pressure defense without all of the girls on the same page.”
JeMae Nichols, a 5-9 sophomore, has 102 steals for Cherokee, which shared the Lakes Conference championship with No. 9 (4A) Le Mars. Slaughter’s 5-9 sophomore sister Teagan has 101 steals for a transition-oriented team that averages a whopping 25.2 steals per game.
This defense, which allows 46.3 points per game, has posted 11 games of 25 or more steals.
“When all is said and done, she’ll be our leader in steals and assists,” said Hagberg. “The big thing about Payton is her athletic ability. She’s super-quick. She has really quick hands. She’s able to make things tough on ball handlers.
“I remember watching her as a little kid in third or fourth grade seeing her go the weak side and she’d intercept a pass. That’s pretty advanced. You’d like to take credit for that as a coach, but she has a higher level of thinking on the basketball court. The most impressive thing to me is her ability to see the court and think two or three passes ahead in anticipation of where the ball is going.”
Slaughter also possesses 12 games of six or more assists. Cherokee, in its three previous 21-plus win seasons, has never had four double-figure average scorers and this one is led by Upper Iowa University recruit Kassidy Pingel (20.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg), a 6-foot senior who has reached double digits in all 21 games while shooting 55.1 percent.
Nichols (14.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is shooting 66.5 percent while Teagan Slaughter (11.1 ppg) has a team-best 37 three-point baskets, 13 more than her older sister.
“It’s so easy to get assists when our girls run the floor so well,” said Slaughter. “Kassidy shoots so well. Every time you give it to her, she makes shots. I bounce-pass it to JeMae. With our shooters, I’ll hit it right in the shot pocket so they can hit outside shots.”
“Payton sees the floor better than anyone I’ve ever coached,” said Hagberg, whose daughter Paityn, a freshman, has played in 11 varsity games this season at Briar Cliff. “She understands how to draw defenders and put the ball in the right place. She’s good at seeing the open floor, breaking down a defense, understanding the angle on where to get the ball to teammates in the best scoring areas.”
Lexi Plitzuweit, Vermillion…. The sophomore scored a school-record 44 points in a 75-70 double-overtime win over Dakota Valley during Dakota XII Conference action.
Nick Gaes, Alta-Aurelia…. The No. 2-ranked senior improved his season record to 37-0 after a first-place finish in the 220-pound weight class of the 1A district tournament in Sibley.