By Jason Maholy
Keisha Newell knew her first season at the helm at Mother McAuley would come with significant challenges, not the least of which would be replacing four starters from last year’s Class 4A state runner-up team.
With an almost entirely new starting lineup and significantly different substitute rotation, along with an overall smaller team, Newell’s top concern was the Mighty Macs’ defense and rebounding.
McAuley is still a work in progress, but the last week has done a lot to alleviate that concern. The Macs suffocated Lincoln-Way Central and New Trier, holding both teams to 14 points in 38-14 and 44-14 wins on Dec. 3 and Dec. 7, respectively.
In between, they won 46-33 over a tough Providence team that came into the Dec. 5 contest unbeaten. The Macs led 23-22 at halftime and broke the game open in the third quarter, during which they held the Celtics scoreless.
“The focus has been defense and getting better at that,” Newell said. “We’re a little undersized, but we have toughness and heart and rebounding is not all about size, it’s about who wants it more. That’s what we’ve been coaching and we’ll continue to get better.
“We’ve faced a ton of adversity, but I’m happy with where we are right now. Obviously, we can get a lot better, but as long as we keep improving I think we’ll be in good shape. To hold a team to zero points in a quarter is huge.”
Two of the key cogs in that defensive effort were seniors Jenna Badali and Alexis Mayer. Badali is the best player on the floor in most games, and Mayer is usually among the smallest but is a tenacious defender who is tasked with guarding the opposition’s best offensive player.
“She’s awesome,” Williams said of Badali, who aside from her defensive efforts led all scorers with 22 points and hit four 3-pointers. “She’s just everything you want in a player, in a leader, and she’s just an even better person. She controls the tempo for us and she gathers the troops. She’s the engine that makes us go.”
“And it’s not like she’s just doing her own thing. She has bought into the team concept, and she leads us defensively and offensively, as well.”
Mayer, she added is “tough as nails.”
“She steps up to the challenge every night. She’s a workhorse and always brings it, at games and at practice.”
Sophomore guard Isabella Finnegan was the Macs’ second-leading scorer against Providence with eight points.
McAuley (7-3) ended the week with a 56-42 loss to Benet on Dec. 8.