DeFrance’s commitment leads Blair girls turnaround
Above: Blair senior Stephanie DeFrance.
Question: How far can the Vikings go?
By Scott Galetti, Staff Writer
She is listed at a mere 5-foot-4, which may be a generous estimate.
Blair High School’s Stephanie DeFrance may appear short in stature, but the Vikings guard sure makes up for it with heart and determination.
DeFrance’s enthusiasm has helped turn the Vikings’ girls basketball team from an afterthought into a Rio Hondo League title contender.
Blair entered the week with a 13-5 overall record and 3-1 mark in league play.
The senior guard is averaging just less than 18 points a game to go along with 4.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.5 steals.
“My last three years here were good, but this is my best year, so I’m really happy,” DeFrance said.
The combination of fellow senior Melissa Fudge (12.9 points per game) and sophomore Jermani Daniels (10.5 ppg) have helped turn the Vikings around.
“When I met Stephanie and Melissa, I recognized that they were my only seniors and they played together since they were little girls,” first-year coach David Jensen said. “If I could feed off of that chemistry they already had and put that into a leadership role on the team, that would help us develop,”
DeFrance has been the symbol of consistency while scoring in double figures in all but one game.
Her consistent play isn’t a coincidence but a result of DeFrance’s commitment to the game she’s been playing since she was 5 years old.
It’s a commitment that includes working to improve every day.
“I’ve been working on a lot of things, my dribbling, conditioning, my shot, everything,” DeFrance said.
It didn’t take long for Jensen, who came to Blair after a four-year stint at Delphi Academy in Lake View Terrace, to see how valuable DeFrance is to the team.
“Stephanie brings to this team a spiritual leadership, as well as an on-court general mentality,” Jensen said. “She’s a captain in the true sense of the word. She definitely has the ability to muster a comeback out of her girls when they’re down, and muster a rejuvenation of energy when they’re all tired out.”
Her lack of height is a definite motivating factor in DeFrance’s desire to succeed.
“I feel I need to work extra hard,” DeFrance said. “When you’re short, you have the speed and everything, but mostly, rebounding is pretty hard. The easiest thing is that you can get through everybody.”
Blair is attempting to win its first league title since 2003.
“We have a few newcomers to the team and a lot of people coming back, and they’re working like they really want it this year,” DeFrance said. “People used to doubt Blair and now we’re coming back, and people are respecting us more now.”
“Mostly, we’re just trying to work together as a team.”
DeFrance was second on the team in scoring (10.9 ppg) behind Fudge in 2005-06 when the Vikings finished 6-19, including 0-10 in league.
A season ago, DeFrance led the team in scoring (12.3 ppg) as the Vikings managed just one league victory and finished 10-14.
So far this season, Blair has shown steady improvement under Jensen.
“I think that I brought just a new positive mentality to the team because they were down after losing so much last year,” Jensen said. “It was a matter of getting them in a position where they’re willing to learn and not just do it the same old way.”
DeFrance also is a member of the Vikings’ track and field team, for which she runs the 100 meters, 300-meter hurdles and the 400-meter relay. She also played this season on Blair’s girls volleyball team.
But the sport DeFrance holds the highest regard for is basketball.
“I’ve always been a hustle-type of person and I love defense,” DeFrance said. “I play my heart out on defense.”
In a best-case scenario, DeFrance wants to play basketball in college.
“I’d like to see Stephanie and Melissa move on to college,” Jensen said. “It would be a storybook ending if they ended up going to school together and continued to play together for the next four years.”