Tabeling plays the game beyond her years


When Bailey Tabeling was a little girl, perhaps 2 or 3 years old, she regularly grasped a ball and tossed it at a mini-basket.

Her range has expanded since then to somewhere north of 20 feet, and when she takes outside shots for the Trinity Lutheran girls basketball team, her aim is a little truer.

Basketball has been an element in her life since she was a tyke, and she remembers well watching NCAA basketball tournament games with relatives like some families focus on other regular shows.

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“It was sort of a family gathering,” Tabeling said of March Madness.

As a sophomore, the 5-foot-11 guard is creating her own madness for Trinity opponents, teaming up with 6-3 front-court partner Sydney Jaynes to send the Class A Cougars to an 11-2 season start.

Trinity has other key components in the operation, to be sure, but the 1-2 cooperation of senior Jaynes, who is headed to Division I Butler University, and Tabeling is what really messes up opponent scouting reports.

Basketball is pretty much a family group concern. The rooting interest in-house favors the University of Kentucky, and older sister Brittany Tabeling Hill holds the school record for points at Trinity with 1,593 after graduating in 2008.

Playing the smart aleck younger sibling, Bailey began teasing sis last year that she was coming for her records. Bold, brash and possibly true. Her high game as a freshman last season was 36 points. Her high game through half of the 2020-21 season so far is 36 points.

“It came up last year,” Bailey said drily of back-and-forth trash talk between her and Brittany. Bailey would say, “How does it feel to have your younger sister going to break your record? We had a little argument.” Brittany said, “If you put in the work, you’ll get it.”

That is advice Bailey seems to be following. She is like that old U.S. Army recruiting campaign of being the best you can be. While clearly a gifted shooter from the perimeter, any criticism of her game in other areas leads her to bear down.

She wanted to start as a freshman and did so. She wants to play college basketball and has a picture of what it will take.

Tabeling is quite comfortable dribbling up-court and unleashing a 3-point shot on the fly. She will assess the defense and drive through it. That long-range capability was not an area that needed improvement.

“She has had that range since seventh grade,” Trinity coach Mike Lang said.

Tabeling jokes her range improved as she grew from the little one at the mini-hoop. She is a bit stronger now, especially after spending time in the weight room.

Fans often measure a basketball player’s worth by how many points she scores, and Tabeling is averaging about 21 points a game. But greatness in a basketball player is measured by the all-around game, taking into account defense, passing, dribbling, rebounding and teamwork.

Some of those things are tabulated by numbers. The rest, court sense contributions, judgment, are witnessed in 3-D, not read in ink.

The recent Trinity victory over Southwestern (Hanover) was a microcosm, a summation of sorts, of what other teams cope with when the Cougars are on. Much of the explosiveness revolves around the duet Tabeling and Jaynes play, supplemented by teammates who can find the hoop.

In a game in which Trinity led by a lot, saw much of the lead dissipate and then won by a lot, much of what makes the Cougars tick was on display.

Tabeling ran up 11 quick points in the first quarter, running the court, stealing away for layups and hitting outside jumpers. She broke free while Jaynes was double-teamed.

As the game aged and Southwestern whittled away at the lead, Trinity adjusted. Jaynes was freed up for passes down low from Tabeling and controlled the game with her rebounding and 10 blocked shots.

Then the rhythm switched again. At the buzzer, Tabeling had 29 points in the scorebook.

“Are you sure?” a surprised Tabeling said when she was told.

They have played together just a season and a half, but Tabeling and Jaynes have an obvious chemistry, an instinctual knack for finding one another on the court. They have grown into a dangerous combination.

“Once you play with girls for a longer time, it’s crazy,” Jaynes said. “My instinct whenever I get a rebound is to look long. You get used to looking for certain things.”

Such as Tabeling streaking down-court for an outlet pass. In the half-court, Tabeling looks to pass in to Jaynes close to the hoop. Always they are seeking an edge to maximize opportunities.

“Me and Bailey are kind of like opposites,” Jaynes said. “It’s really hard for other teams to figure us out. We kind of complement each other in our skills.”

Lang knows what he’s got and appreciates the way the duo mesh. Sometimes, he just lets them work out situations without his help.

“They both have an extremely high basketball IQ, especially at the offensive end,” Lang said. “We talk about things in practice, but I tell them to get together and work it out, and that’s what they’ve done. There’s constant communication. I get accustomed to seeing that day in and day out.”

Lang said Tabeling’s offense was basically ready-made freshman year. He tiptoed a bit delicately around an analysis of her defense.

“For a freshman, there’s a big learning curve on defense, especially for a guard. It takes time,” he said.

Tabeling admits she heard some talk about defense as a weakness.

“Some people told me I didn’t really play defense,” she said.

A year later, Tabeling can wreak havoc on defense, particularly when stationed at the top of a 2-3 zone. This, too, was demonstrated in the Southwestern game. Some might label it taking foolish chances, but with Tabeling, her stabs at the ball seem more calculated.

Getting fingertips or a hand on a dribble or on a pass disrupts offenses and can demoralize. Tabeling prowls for the ball like a big cat.

“I kind of stay back lower, and once I see her eyes to make a pass, I try to move,” Tabeling said.

Lang thinks this is something Tabeling does extremely well.

“She reads that passing lane,” he said. “She gets her hand on so many balls. I think her defense has been remarkable.”

The season still has two months to go, and the Cougars are playing well but face a rugged schedule. Yet with Jaynes and Tabeling leading, everyone would like to think a state run is within reach.

“We talk about it now and then,” Tabeling said. “But we’ve got to do better if we’re going to state.”

This year, Brittany’s career records can wait. In the meantime, the Army has moved on from its old slogan to “Warriors Wanted.” That might fit Bailey Tabeling, too.

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