Baranek: Megan Walsh sparkles as Marian Catholic’s ‘bigger sister’
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org February 28, 2013 9:50PM
Megan Walsh, of Marian Catholic, takes a shot over Marist's Lizzie Zaleski. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 2, 2013 6:24AM
As the bus pulled away from Marian Catholic on Thursday morning, one of the most gratified people on board for the trip to this weekend’s Class 4A finals at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena had to be Spartans senior Megan Walsh.
It just doesn’t get any better for a girls high school basketball player than going to state and having a chance to reap the biggest reward, especially after three years of trying.
“It feels great,” Walsh said in a phone conversation as the school bus made its way toward I-55. “I do kind of feel old, but my hard work the past four years is finally paying off. Going downstate was one of my biggest goals, and I’m so excited that we’re actually going.”
Probably the only thing that would have made her happier was if her big sisters were on the bus with her — the ones she looked up to when she was a wide-eyed sophomore looking for seniors to lead her along.
Simone Law and Jasmine Matthews never got to play on the big stage at Illinois State University. But they can rest assured the qualities they helped instill in Walsh will be very much in evidence at Redbird Arena.
You won’t see it in the stats. The Truman State-bound Walsh doesn’t have glitzy numbers, averaging just 8.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The kids supplying the big numbers for the Spartans this season are junior Ashton Millender (15.2 ppg) and sophomore Teniya Page (12.2 ppg). Kauai Bradley is the team’s leading rebounder at 6.8 per game.
And while Walsh can hold her own around the basket, has a nice little hook shot and can pop with a fair amount of accuracy from 10 to 15 feet, she doesn’t make anybody in the stands go “Ooooooh” over her style.
What Walsh supplies in large quantity is glue.
When somebody is missing shots, somebody’s emotions are getting out of kilter or the Spartans as a team are showing some cracks in the seams, it’s Walsh who steps forward to put a seal on it.
“Megan did everything she could to make sure all of the kids were positive and the negative was kept minimal,” coach Annie Byrne said. “She kind of took ownership of that role this summer and she brought it back with her in the fall.
“I’ve had so many great leaders, it would be so hard to say that she’s the best I’ve had so far. But in terms of making sure that everybody on the team is positive, I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a season as much as this year.”
And when Marian does need something tangible, Walsh is capable.
It was never more evident than the second half of Monday night’s Class 4A Illinois Wesleyan Supersectional win over Richwoods, when the 6-1 forward played conservatively, but effectively for more than 13 minutes with four fouls. She had a couple of key assists, and twice went to the basket at the start of the fourth quarter to help trigger an eventual runaway.
This time the guiding light came with a team-high 13 points.
“They look up to me as a bigger sister,” Walsh said of her teammates. “I just kind of have to keep them composed and relaxed. If one of them makes a mistake, I just have to be right there and tell them, ‘It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.’ And I myself have to keep my emotions in check and not show frustration.
“It’s a pretty big role for the team. But I’ve had great leaders before me who have shown that. I’m just trying to do what they did for me.”
Walsh is a native of Chicago’s Beverly community and a graduate of St. John Fisher. Both of her brothers, 6-foot-10 Matt and 6-8 Bobby, attended Mount Carmel. Both play volleyball, with Bobby at Lewis University. Her little sister, Mary Cate, is a freshman and plays basketball at Marist.
“I had never heard of Marian until eighth grade,” Walsh said. “I was kind of set on going to Marist. But I went to an open house at Marian with my dad and I just got a feeling about it. I could see myself there. And I liked Annie. She was really honest with me. I just kind of fell in love with it.”
As a freshman, Walsh was brought up to the varsity and watched from the bench as the Spartans’ season came to an end in a supersectional loss to Young. As a sophomore, she was a starter on a senior-led squad that again fell to Young in a super. Last season as a junior, she was one of the most experienced players on a young team that finished 21-12.
This year, it’s all come together for the Spartans, who reigned as unbeaten champions in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, have had a playoff run that included a miracle, overtime game-winning shot by Millender and are a sparkling 31-1 heading into Friday’s semifinal against old nemesis Young.
Success there could bring a rematch in Saturday’s title game against Rolling Meadows, which provided the only blemish on Marian’s record.
“We need to get back at Whitney Young for the past three years,” Walsh said. “And if we could beat (Rolling Meadows) and show we truly are the best, that would be fantastic.”