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Baranek: Stagg girls basketball turning corner, heads

Homewood-Flossmoor's Gabrielle Sanders (21) defends hoop against Stagg's Revi McMah(14) during Hillcrest Holiday Classic. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

Homewood-Flossmoor's Gabrielle Sanders (21) defends the hoop against Stagg's Revi McMahon (14) during the Hillcrest Holiday Classic. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:25AM



In some regards, Revi McMahon has a pretty long memory.

Moments after Stagg beat Homewood-Flossmoor 53-37 in a second-round game at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic, the senior point guard explained why the Chargers seemed to have a little extra spring in their steps as they dominated in the second half against the favored Vikings.

“Remember two years ago, when I was a sophomore, we lost to them in a regional championship?” said McMahon, who scored 16 points in the win. “I think we were just looking for payback. We’ve played them in the summer, but not in a (regular-season) game. They’re a really good team.”

The victory was a springboard for the Chargers, who were one three-pointer away from forcing Bloom to overtime in the semifinal before beating Rich South 47-35 in the third-place game. After a win Thursday over Lincoln-Way Central, the Chargers are No. 8 with a bullet, sitting at 10-3.

In other regards, McMahon has a pretty short memory. Well, to be fair, no memory at all. Because when I asked her if she thought anybody out there expected them to beat H-F, she simply said, no.

But why?

“Because we’re Stagg,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and smiling. “Stagg is not usually known for girls basketball.”

Revi, you should have been there back in the day.

From the mid-1990s through the 2003-04 season, Stagg had several seasons of 20 or more victories. Headlines heralded dominant post players such as Heather King, Jayme Brown and Emily Heikes, three-point artists including Jessica Joyce, Adrienne Turner and Amy Hyerczyk, and all-around tough players Abby Booth and Erin Neiheisel.

Across the board, girls at Stagg were dominant when it came to sports. Much more dominant than the boys, in fact. Many of Stagg’s best girls athletes were multisport athletes.

It’s still that way to a degree at Stagg, but we haven’t seen a lot of frontliners do it over the past several years.

“The age of specialization,” Chargers coach Bill Turner said. “Parents who have their kids in clubs are told, ‘We’ll get your kid a scholarship, but you have to commit 100 percent.’ I think if you asked most kids they’d tell you that they’d rather play multiple sports in high school.

“At Stagg, the coaches enjoy a very good relationship and have been very good at getting kids to play multiple sports, but (specialization) has taken its toll over the past several years.”

The past couple have been better than most.

This renaissance, of sorts, began last season, when a Chargers team that Turner himself gently joked was “vertically challenged,” improved from 11-19 to 19-7 and won the program’s first conference title since 2001.

“Everybody knew their roles, everybody played together,” said Turner, the reigning SouthtownStar Coach of the Year. “We didn’t have any double-digit players, no All-Area players. We were basically just a team that passed the ball around well, shot well, played together well.”

This season, Revi McMahon and her sister, Casey, have been the major scorers and Carrie Sinclair has been solid as a starter, But three of the better role players for the No. 9 Chargers during their 10-3 start (Hannah Henderson, Alexa Janus and Ali Conrad) are multisport athletes.

“We’re fortunate to have three volleyball players this year,” Turner said. “But imagine how good we could be if we had a (tall) girl underneath like a Bria Gaines at Bloom. She changes a lot of shots.”

At 5-foot-9, Ali Conrad is the Chargers’ tallest presence under the basket, at least in the regular rotation. Most of the other dominant teams in the area have at least one 5-11 regular. Some have two.

As for a Bria Gaines? At 6-3, junior Gerda Sliuzaite still is learning the game. Six-foot sophomore Mia DiGiacomo, meanwhile, is seeing an increase in playing time.

“She already has the size and quickness, but she’s a sophomore,” Turner said. “She doesn’t get a whole lot of playing time, but she definitely has huge potential. We also have some big girls at the lower levels that we’re hoping will develop in the future.”

In the meantime, Stagg has battled on as a team, and was the surprise of the Hillcrest tourney.

Surprise? There I go again.

“Actually, I’m not that surprised,” Janus said. “I feel like we’re a real team this year. We all have our little niches, and when we work together we can do really well.

“Revi’s got the ballhandling, Casey the shooting. We’ve got Ali down low and Hannah Henderson’s speed. I feel like everything is just coming together with us.”



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