Screeching Eagles want to soar higher
When Mt. Assisi captured its first-ever regional title last season, it was accomplished primarily by a group of players who weren’t upperclassmen.
Now, as a half-dozen seniors among a roster of 13 prepare to compete soon in the state tournament and take aim at a second regional crown, Screeching Eagles coach Kelsey James wonders what else her club might be able to achieve in the postseason.
“Having six seniors is important because they know that this is it for their high school careers,” she said. “When the playoffs start, it’s going to click with them because they don’t want to leave with nothing. Winning a regional for the first time in school history was great, but this group is not wanting to settle for the first round of sectionals [again].”
Before embarking on that playoff journey, though, Mt. Assisi desires to take care of some more regular-season business. Last week, the Eagles did so successfully as they defeated a pair of Girls Catholic Athletic Conference foes and climbed over the .500 mark in league play.
Mt. Assisi entered the current week with a 4-3 ledger in the GCAC and a 10-13 record overall after knocking off Queen of Peace (54-41) and St. Francis de Sales (55-27) on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
“It’s the first time in a while we’ve been above .500 in the GCAC White, and I’m really proud of them for that,” James said of her athletes.
MaryKate Wetzel supplied 17 points and six assists to lead the way for the Eagles against an improved Pride team. Jess Moriarty tossed in 15 points and Sabrina Miller added 11.
“Queen of Peace is always a big rival for us and the girls were very excited about the game,” James said, “We weren’t, however, quite playing up to the level that we usually do. I think they let their nerves get the best of them.”
Another challenge posed by the Pride concerned their offensive approach.
“Queen of Peace slowed the pace of the game down,” James said, “and we don’t like when teams do that to us. Fortunately, the players that usually do well for us were able to score the baskets that we needed down the stretch.”
In James’ opinion, the game’s nip-and-tuck nature was more a reflection of the Pride’s intensity level than anything else.
“You have to give credit to Queen of Peace because they never gave up at any point of the game,” she said. “They continued to fight, and I had to keep playing my top players.
“I watched Queen of Peace in several games, and the Queen of Peace that played us was a totally different team than the one I had previously seen. They wanted it more [and] they were working hard — you could see it in their faces.”
The biggest factor at crunch time was foul shooting.
“For the first time all year, we actually made free throws down the stretch, and that wound up being the difference,” James said. “If you came to a game, you’d think that we never shoot free throws, but it’s nice that it’s finally starting to click for us from the foul line.”
Ten more points from Wetzel, plus nine by Kathleen Murphy were key ingredients in Mt. Assisi’s conquest of the Lady Pioneers on Thursday.
“It was a good game for most of our team,” James said. “It was a good team effort for us.
“I was able to get every girl in the game and give them more playing time than they’re used to. It was a very balanced scoring effort and a lot of people contributed.”
After facing Richards today, the Eagles will enter the GCAC Tournament. James said she hopes some of her players who have shown potential begin to emerge as difference-makers.
“I think of [senior] Moira [Stifter],” James said. “She’ll get that quiet eight or nine points in a game, and she’s capable of scoring that. Then there’s Terri Dearth — she hasn’t been our leading scorer lately, [but] if she starts putting some more points on the board, then we’re definitely looking at an entire lineup that’s capable of scoring for us.
“That will benefit us for the playoffs. What I’m stressing to [our players] is that teams who are playing us will know who are top two scorers are, and it’s the ones who they don’t watch who are going to have the breakout game. That’s what we’ll need — players coming off the bench.”
More than anything, steadiness is a must if another regional banner is to eventually be hung at Mt. Assisi.
“Our consistent performances right now depend on the day, which worries me,” James said. “Some days we play great, and there’s other games where we take two steps back. I’m hoping things come together by the time we open the state tournament against Lisle.”
Besides their loss to Mt. Assisi, the Pride also dropped a 62-35 verdict to Bradley-Bourbonnais on Saturday. Allie Herman and Jelyn Chua both tallied 10 points for Peace, and the former augmented her scoring with a team-best eight rebounds.
The Lady Chargers split a pair of SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue games last week, as they beat Joliet West on Tuesday before falling to a 68-41 defeat versus Homewood-Flossmoor on Thursday.
Stagg secured its victory with another combination of strong defense and hot shooting. Providing some of each was senior guard Casey McMahon, who finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Eleven of her points came in the opening quarter and staked the Lady Chargers to a lead.
Hannah Henderson (eight points, six steals) and Mia DiGiacomo (six points, 12 rebounds) were other pivotal individuals for Stagg. DiGiacomo’s inside presence kept the Lady Tigers from doing much damage in the paint.
“Her rebounding numbers continue to rise with each game,” Lady Chargers coach Bill Turner said of DiGiacomo, who is averaging 8.6 boards per contest. Also helpful to Stagg was the free-throw disparity that favored it — while the Lady Chargers went 10-of-16 at the stripe, Joliet West converted just 2-of-7 attempts.
“Holding teams to single-digit-scoring quarters is a goal the team sets for themselves each game,” Turner said. “The girls take a lot of pride in their defense and we spend a great deal of time in practice on it.
“We have held seven teams to 40 points or less so far this season, [and] we have been very patient in our offense and shot selection when we get a lead.”
The Lady Tigers were only able to muster up one bucket in the fourth quarter after trailing 36-26 at the end of the third stanza.
Stagg traveled to H-F to take on the powerful Lady Vikings in the second matchup between the teams this season. The Lady Chargers stayed with their physical and aggressive opponent for the first 16 minutes, trailing only 24-19 at halftime as McMahon (13 points, including three 3-point baskets) paced Stagg.
“I was very encouraged by our play in the first half,” Turner said. “Casey McMahon’s long-range shots and good free-throw shooting were the main reasons offensively, and we stayed with them on the glass as well.”
A taller Lady Vikings club held just a 22-20 rebounding advantage for the game. DiGiacomo (five points) snared seven of those for the Lady Chargers. Noor Elmosa (seven points) was also a positive influence.
However, when H-F cranked up its defensive pressure, Stagg (9-10, 3-5) had no adequate response. Turnovers led to several easy baskets for the Lady Vikings, who took control of the contest by outscoring the Lady Chargers 24-12 in the third period.
“They play a lot of girls and keep coming at you,” Turner said of H-F. “I think we got tired playing 84 feet of transition basketball in the second half and the turnovers began to mount. They are a very talented team, and we are not alone when it comes to being on the short end of the scoreboard against them.”
The Lady Spartans improved their season record to 19-1 by recording three more victories last week, two of them in South Suburban Conference Red play.
Beaten in league action were Argo (61-41) on Tuesday and Richards (74-40) on Thursday. Stepping out of the SSC Red on Saturday did nothing to slow Oak Lawn, either, as it routed Abingdon 55-32.
The Lady Argonauts never had a chance against the Lady Spartans, falling behind by a whopping 29 points in the opening stanza. LaTondra Brooks netted 14 of her 16 points during the session, with two of her four baskets fired in from 3-point range.
“We have really stressed the importance of coming out focused and intense at the start of the game,” Oak Lawn coach Janet Meyers said. “Our posts, Brianna Markusic and Jannah Mahmoud, also had solid first quarters, scoring seven and eight points, respectively.
“Our bench got to see a lot of time in this game. Dana Greene had nine points [on three 3-pointers] off the bench.”
Markusic’s double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds topped the Lady Spartans. In addition to her points, Brooks contributed seven steals and three assists, and both Mahmoud (10 points, seven rebounds) and Brooke Annerino (six points) also aided the winning cause.
Meyers admitted her team didn’t have as strong of a start as she would have liked against its cross-town rival on Thursday. The Lady Bulldogs did a good job of getting back on defense and stopping Oak Lawn’s fast break, but the Lady Spartans still led 18-7 after one quarter.
Balance was the key to Oak Lawn’s getaway. Brooks racked up seven points via driving layups, Mahmoud canned three jumpers for six points and Annerino chipped in five points.
A 22-10 scoring edge in the second frame blew the game open for the Lady Spartans. Brooks accounted for 10 of Oak Lawn’s points. The margin stood at 60-32 after three quarters.
“It was nice to get to play all of our girls, and nine of our 10 girls scored,” Meyers said. “It is always an intense game when Oak Lawn plays Richards, and I was glad all our girls could be a part of it.
“We did a good job on the boards and out-rebounded them 43-24. [Lady Bulldogs coach] Jeff Kortz does a nice job with his team. They were well-coached and played hard.”
Brooks finished with 21 points, nine steals and five assists, and was one of four Lady Spartans to tally in double digits. Also reaching that level were Mahmoud (14 points, 12 rebounds), Annerino (13 points, two assists, two steals) and Markusic (10 points, 12 rebounds).
“Oak Lawn is very, very good,” Kortz said. “They are very well-coached and they are on a mission to win the conference. They are a very solid team. They play great defense and control the boards.
“Our shots weren’t falling early, and it put us in a deep hole. It’s very hard to dig out of it against them.”
Headliners for Richards in the setback were Sydni Tears (15 points) Carly Stazak (nine), Brianna Kuchenny (seven) and Anita Robinson (six points).
The Lady Spartans traveled to Abingdon, just outside of Galesburg, on Saturday to participate in the Great Western Shootout. Oak Lawn had a good first quarter against the host team and led 22-5 at the break.
“Although Abingdon is a small school, it was a great experience for the girls and a great team-building weekend,” Meyers said. “I was impressed with our start. We had a long bus ride and only had a 10-minute warm-up, [so] I was afraid we would come out slow, but we were able to focus and play with speed and intensity.
“It was strange playing on the road with no fans. We have had a pretty good following, even on the road, this year, but we only had four fans [including my husband and 5-month-old son] at this game and Abingdon had a good crowd since they were at home.”
Brooks produced a solid first quarter, scoring 10 points and getting several steals. Annerino added six points for the Lady Spartans, who were ahead 34-12 at the half and never looked back. Brooks was named the game MVP after totaling 17 points, 12 steals and five assists.
Also playing well for Oak Lawn were Markusic (14 points, 11 rebounds), Mahmoud (eight points, 10 rebounds), Annerino (eight points, three steals) and Dee Dee Shatat (six points).
“Everyone got a chance to play a lot, and the girls really enjoyed the weekend trip,” Meyers said.
Oak Lawn wasn’t the only SSC Red contingent to get the better of the Lady Bulldogs last week. Also doing so was Reavis, which doled out a 55-46 defeat on Tuesday.
Richards was in front after both the first and third quarters, but it faded in the closing moments.
“The game was tied with 2:20 to go and we didn’t respond,” Kortz said. “They made a lot of free throws down the stretch. We played hard, but the breaks didn’t go our way on this night.”
Tears (16 points, 10 rebounds), Taylor Sonichsen (11 points, five assists, five steals), Stazak (six points, three assists) and Robinson (four points, four rebounds) were the Lady Bulldogs’ ringleaders.
Kokomo and Joliet Catholic both sent the Lady RedHawks reeling last week, the Angels doing so by a 69-52 count in an East Suburban Catholic Conference encounter on Wednesday.
JCA pretty much decided things in the second quarter, when it came within three seconds of pitching a shutout at Marist. Brooke Wyderski’s 3-point bucket kept that from happening, but it did little to lift the Lady RedHawks’ spirits as the team was facing a massive 20-point deficit.
The Angels’ lead ballooned to 31 points at its peak, but behind Wyderski’s four 3s in the last six minutes, Marist (9-11, 1-4) made the final score respectable. She finished with a double-double of 30 points and 11 rebounds, an effort complemented by Madison Naujokas’ nine points and Lorna McCall’s eight boards.
The Lady RedHawks fought Kokomo hard, but absorbed a 54-49 defeat despite good outings from Tehya Fortune (10 points), Naujokas (10), Katelyn Rosner (seven points, 12 rebounds) and Wyderski (seven points, 11 rebounds).
Two respectable exhibitions from both Julia Ruzevich and Sam Youngwirth couldn’t spare the Lady Eagles a pair of SSWSC Blue setbacks last week.
Ruzevich’s 19 points and nine from Youngwirth weren’t enough to prevent Bolingbrook’s 56-49 win on Tuesday, then Sandburg (12-10, 3-5) wasted a combined 17 points from the two on Thursday as it tumbled to a 46-38 loss versus Lincoln-Way East. Also contributing seven points against the Lady Griffins was Vicky Stavropoulos (seven points).
Handing out losses to the Lady Astros last week were Eisenhower (45-41) and Reavis (50-37) in a pair of SSC Red clashes.
Courtney Dalton paced Shepard (5-16, 2-6) with 12 points opposite the Lady Cardinals last Tuesday, while Myrissha Mitchell’s 10 points were the Lady Astros’ best output on Thursday against the Lady Rams.
The Lady Knights captured a 47-28 victory over Illiana Christian in Palos Heights on Saturday. Anna Persenaire poured in 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to power Chicago Christian (6-12).
The Mighty Macs fell to 15-8 overall and 4-3 in the GCAC Red after dropping a 50-39 decision to Trinity on Saturday.