southtownstar
DRAFTY 
Weather Updates

Baranek: Many memorable moments for state finalists Marian Catholic, Joliet Catholic

Joliet Catholic Academy's Kennedy Weigt (5) jumps JnayWalker (34) after their IHSA girl's Class 3A semifinal wagainst Notre Dame Illinois

Joliet Catholic Academy's Kennedy Weigt (5) jumps on Jnaya Walker (34) after their IHSA girl's Class 3A semifinal win against Notre Dame at Illinois State's Redbird Arena in Normal, Ill., Friday, March 7, 2014. Joliet Catholic Academy won the game, 70-59.

storyidforme: 63199868
tmspicid: 22731939
fileheaderid: 10982347

high school

CUBE

Updated: April 11, 2014 6:20AM



Marian Catholic couldn’t hit a shot Friday against Young to save itself.

Joliet Catholic couldn’t stop a three to save itself Saturday against Montini.

There was no fairy tale ending for either of our Southland teams over the weekend at the girls basketball state finals.

But you know what? There isn’t a team in the state that didn’t have a bad day this season.

Precious few, though, had as many good ones as Marian Catholic and Joliet Catholic. So because I prefer my cup half full, let’s close the state finals experience with a couple of thoughts about why they got there.

Joliet Catholic’s girls hoops program, after years of mediocrity or worse, and playing in the shadow of the tradition-laden volleyballers, took a giant step in the right direction in the 2012-13 season by going 24-5. They advanced to the sectional semifinals before being stunned by Bishop McNamara.

“I think last year we looked too far ahead,” Angels senior Jasmine Lumpkin said. “That’s what ended our season last year. We were looking two opponents ahead of us instead of looking at what was in front of us.

“This year we took it step by step, game by game. I wanted to get down here my senior year, and we got that job done.”

The Angels, a year stronger on the floor with Lumpkin and the Ekhomu sisters, Christina and Nicole, and buoyed by the infusion of freshman talent in Jnaya Walker, Ty Battle and Kennedy Weigt, ran off 20 consecutive wins.

Their two losses before Saturday were to Young and Marian — both state finalists in Class 4A. Their postseason path was a tough one, but included a revenge, of sorts, win over Bishop Mac and a Class 3A semifinal victory over Quincy Notre Dame that broke the latter’s 25-game playoff winning streak.

The Angels likely aren’t done being a state contender. Even though Lumpkin and Nicole Ekhomu are graduating, the other three starters — Nicole Ekhomu, Battle and Walker — should be back, along with experienced players Weigt, Andriana Acosta, Mia Farrell and Kaitlyn Williams.

“You’ve got to get here the first time to expect to come back,” Angels coach Ed Schodrof said. “I’m very proud of the team. We took three, four steps forward moving forward at this time.”

Marian Catholic’s return trip to state to defend its 2012-13 title wasn’t exactly unexpected, given that almost the whole team was back, including super-Spartans Ashton Millender and Teniya Page.

The biggest hurdle seemed the shocking change at the top, when Annie Byrne quit and Dan Murray took over.

Not only were they different personality-wise, they also had very different coaching philosophies. It led to some early missteps as the Spartans tried to learn on the fly during a mega-tough early-season schedule.

After Christmas, they had a week of nothing but practice.

“That week after that we were able to, for the first time, tweak some things,” Murray said. “When we had that week stretch, we made some minor adjustments and tried to put the team in a little more positive situation.

“The girls really made my job easier. At no point was it, ‘Why are we doing this? We’ve won doing it a different way.’ It was always, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do, let’s be the very best that we can be playing in this system.’ I really thank them.”

After Christmas, the Spartans had a tough loss to national powerhouse Incarnate Word, then went on a 14-game winning streak in which very few opponents came close.

It turned into quite a successful journey.

“I wouldn’t say it was really hard, we just had to adjust to each other, which we did,” junior Kauai Bradley said after the Spartans bounced back Saturday to beat Geneva to capture third place in Class 4A. “As you can see, it worked out well.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.