VALPARAISO | Sharon Karungi introduced herself to the Valparaiso community in a big way Tuesday night.
The junior college transfer shined in her debut, leading the Crusaders with 23 points and 14 rebounds in an 89-62 victory over St. Joseph’s in Valparaiso’s exhibition opener.
Karungi arrived at Valparaiso from Uganda by way of Northern Oklahoma College, but the 6-foot-2 forward looked right at home at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“It really meant a lot to be out there,” Karungi said. “My teammates have been great, and the fans were great. Just being out there was awesome.”
Karungi cleaned up the glass on both ends of the court and had the ARC crowd on their feet with four blocks. The Crusaders outscored St. Joseph’s 40-24 in the paint and had 19 second-chance points.
Tuesday’s game was a bit of a homecoming for St. Joseph’s sophomore Courtney Kvachkoff. The Crown Point product led the Pumas with 21 points and seven rebounds in a team-high 38 minutes. Tityana Miller (Hammond) played 14 minutes, grabbing two rebounds and adding a blocked shot. Allison Mattocks (Rensselaer) played the final two minutes for the Pumas.
“This was a big opportunity for us,” Kvachkoff said. “We came in here with nothing to lose, and we just tried to make plays. It was exciting for me to play (at the ARC) again after I played here in the Rumble. It’s always fun to be back home.”
The Pumas, coming off a 1-25 season, kept up with the Crusaders in the early going, but Valparaiso closed the first half with a 10-1 run to take a 43-32 lead into the locker room. St. Joseph’s cut the deficit to a one-possession game early in the second half, but the Crusaders used a 29-9 run to take control for good.
Valparaiso sophomore Jessi Wiedemann knocked down five 3-pointers and had 20 points to go along with five assists. Charae Richardson added 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds and five steals.
“The team has been working really well together,” Wiedemann said. “Our chemistry is great, and we’ve really been working better as a group.”
Valparaiso was shorthanded as starting point guard Jessica Carr (hand), reserve forward Sarah Godwin (knee) and newcomer Liz Hamlet (concussion) were all in street clothes. The Crusaders had just eight players in uniform, including freshman walk-on Faith Miller.
“It seems like it’s just been a fluke,” Valparaiso coach Tracey Dorow said. “The Lord will never give us more than we can handle, and I think this is an opportunity for the other players to step up and take advantage. No one will be complaining about playing time.”