Beyond the Arc with Kate Harman: Vargas has been a dominant force for Upper Dublin
By: Kate Harman
Those aren’t jersey numbers, play calls, or title accumulations. No, these low numbers are the field-goal percentages of the Upper Dublin girls’ basketball team’s opponents during the state tournament.
Teams like Cardinal O’Hara, Abington, and Souderton. Teams with Division I talent and resumes to match.
“Unheard of,” coach Morgan Funsten said, of the four-game defensive stretch by his Cardinals.
While UD has frustrated offenses with its pesky team defense, there’s been one Cardinal in particular making an big impact on the floor.
A 6-foot-2, Jackie Vargas doesn’t just block or alter shots, she changes the game. And that’s exactly what she’s done during this Cinderella run, game after game after game.
“Her defensive awareness,” Funsten said. “She recognizes when to step off, when to help, and can alter shots. She blocks three shots a game but how many she alters is unlimited. Most teams have shot around 20-percent from two-point range, which is a credit to everyone, but in the back of their mind they must be thinking that they have to finish over Jackie Vargas.
“You watch players on the other team get by the first defender when driving and then dribble back out to the perimeter instead of attacking Jackie,” the coach added. “It’s a testament to how intimidating she can be.”
Intimidating? In size only, as the imposing sophomore made waves as a freshman by inserting herself into the starting lineup and almost immediately showcasing what she could do on the court – especially with her defensive presence.
“It’s exciting. It’s nice to know that when I’m in the game it makes a difference,” Vargas said. “That I make them nervous. I could be a lot more intimidating - I’m just tall. But when people can’t drive or take it to the basket because I’m there, then I’m preventing a shot - an extra two points.”
While Vargas was great her first year in an Upper Dublin (26-5) uniform, she’s shown tremendous growth as a sophomore. Along with the 3 and ½ blocks, she’s averaging over 11 points and 7 rebounds for the Cardinals, while shooting 56-percent from the field.
“The jump she made from freshman year to sophomore year,” Funsten said. “If she can come close to matching that improvement her junior and senior year - it really is an unlimited ceiling for her.”
Both Vargas and Funsten point to her experience this past summer playing for Puerto Rico in the U16 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) tournament as where much her development occurred. The experience lasted from the last week in May until the first few weeks in June, as the forward with great handle first went to Puerto Rico – where her father, Rafael, is from – to train with the team. Then the group went to Colombia before heading to Argentina, where the tournament was held.
In five games, Vargas averaged 29 minutes, 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks – not far off from what she’s been doing on the floor for Upper Dublin this year.
“The experience made me tougher, changed the type of player I am,” Vargas said. “Before, I was a good player but going there helped get me out of my shell. I met new people, played tougher competition. It made me better.”
And the Cardinals are reaping the benefits, as the team will play for the program’s first state championship, Tuesday, 6 p.m., against Central Bucks South.
With such a young lineup – one that starts two freshmen, as well as Vargas – it’s difficult for basketball fans to not look ahead, to think about what the team could look like in just one or two years.
“It’s hard not to think about what the future could hold, but you never know if you’ll get back to this spot again,” Vargas said. “One year you could be a state champion or you could have great people and not get there. We will worry about the future next year. That’s when we will start worrying.”
For now, Vargas is worried about Tuesday night.
Those looking to drive the lane on her probably are, too.