Midway through Althoff’s game against Teutopolis at the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament on Saturday, first-year coack Nick Knolhoff yelled at his team as it ran by the Crusaders bench.
“Keep having fun girls is what he yelled,” a smiling Althoff junior Kyleigh Vaught said as she recalled the momment. “That game was so much fun.”
It was Vaught who had the most fun. With her free throw line jumper midway through the third quarter, Vaught scored the 1,000th point of her high school career. That basket was just part of a 24-point performance by the Crusaders top offensive player as Vaught helped Althoff upset Teutopolis 44-41 in a first round game.
“Everything just finally clicked. Getting used to a new coach and learning what he wants and expects and then we had several people leave last year so it took time for everybody to learn about each other and what their roles were going to be,” Vaught said. “But that game against Teutopolis it just finally all came together. We’re going to be a team which is capable of upsetting a lot of teams the rest of the season.”
A 5-foot-9 guard who is averaging 15.6 points per game and shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line, going over the 1,000-point mark meant a lot to Vaught as she thought back to the two people most responsible for teaching her the game — her grandfather, former Taylorville High School girls basketball coach Gary McCullough and her aunt, former Taylorville all-stater Kristi McCullough.
Kristi McCullough went on to play four years of college basketball at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
“My grandpa and aunt Kristi are the ones who really got me started. My aunt was a great player and I always wanted to be like her,” Vaught said. “Going over 1,000 points has always been a goal of mine. But I couldn’t have done it without my teammates who have gotten me the ball in places where I could score or my coaches who have designed plays set up for me to be successful.
“Basketball is pretty much 24-7 with me. I love the game and no, I never get burnt out. My dream is to play college basketball someday.”
Vaught, who played this past summer with the St. Louis Gateway Club team where she is a teammate of current Triad standout Sophie Thompson, has improved her 3-point shooting and her defense this year with the urging of Knolhoff.
Known as “Coach K,” Knolhoff has implemented a more structured offense and a team which relies more on playing good defense and playing hard, “every second of every game until the final buzzer,” Vaught said.
“Coach K stresses defense and we’re running more of a structured offense. Last year under coach (Todd) Hill it was more of a free lance offense,” Vaught said. “I think we’re much more of a team this year. We’re like a family. We don’t hang out together all the time, but we do things together. I think we’re closer this year.”
That closeness have finally paid off on the court as well. After a tough start, Althoff enters its game with O’Fallon on Thursday night with a 4-2 mark in its last six games and is 6-14 for the season.
“Ellie (Martz) had a great game against Teutopolis and played well the other night against Central. Maggie (Reimer) played great the other night against Central,” Vaught said. “It’s taken time but even early in the season we had girls who hadn’t played much varsity who really stepped up and did the job for us. Now that we’ve learned what the coaches want and what each of us has to do in our different roles, we’re playing better each time we step on the court. It’s a lot fun. We’re all having a lot of fun.”
Although college is still more than a year away, Vaught has already begun to hear from several NCAA Division I and Division II basketball programs. But there is still work to be done in the gym.
“I’ve got to get quicker. I’m not that quick right now so I’m really going to work on that this sumner,” Vaught said. “The dream has always been to play college basketball. Be that at the NCAA Division I or Division II level, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to go somewhere where I can play.”