BELOIT -- Tyra Grant and Vannessa Dickson are more than teammates on the girls basketball team at Ursuline High School.
They're close friends, building on a bond that formed when both made the varsity team as freshmen. Now juniors, they are leading Ursuline's drive to defend its Division III state title.
Wednesday, Grant and Dickson led the Lady Irish to a 43-32 victory at West Branch High School, beating a team that entered the game ranked eighth in Division II and is the defending Division II state champion.
Grant entered the game averaging 25.7 points a game, and she finished with 22. Dickson added 11 points, as the two friends combined to outscore the Lady Warriors.
"We want to be battle-tested going into the tournament," Ursuline coach Sean Durkin said. "We're in the monster part of our schedule, and so far we've gotten through it pretty well."
Not so long ago, Durkin might not have sounded so confident. Ursuline lost to Berlin Hiland 68-45 on Jan. 15, and twice in January gave up more than 60 points to an opponent.
Now the Irish are ranked eighth in Division III and on a five-game winning streak. Opponents are averaging 38.8 points a game during Ursuline's streak.
"We had kind of a lull there," Durkin said. "Toward the end of the year, we've come on. That's kind of our staple, man-to-man defense, and we get after you."
Grant and Dickson noticed the improvement, too.
"Oh, yes, we're a totally different team," Grant said. "On defense, we've finally got that together, that's what our program has been about. I think we just clicked ..."
Then Dickson stepped in with the punch line.
"We were all sick of getting yelled at," she said.
Leading most of the way
When Grant opened the second quarter with two quick baskets, Ursuline owned a 13-9 lead and never trailed again.
The Lady Warriors made a run late. With senior Tori Arndt scoring six of her 10 points in the fourth quarter and with junior guard Aimee Rice canning a long 3-pointer with 2 minutes remaining in the game, West Branch trimmed Ursuline's lead to 37-32.
West Branch didn't score again.
Instead, Ursuline padded its lead at the free throw line and with defensive plays such as a steal by senior Cierra Bennett near midcourt that led to her uncontested layup in the final seconds. Bennett closed the third quarter and opened the fourth quarter with similar plays.
"Tonight is an indication of how we can perform defensively, and it was the difference," Durkin said.
Ursuline's "monster" ending of the regular season continues with a game Saturday at home against 16-3 Rayen and a finale at 16-2 Boardman on Monday.