Baranek: Closing the book on the 2013-14 girls basketball season
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org March 23, 2014 9:48PM
Oak Lawn guard LaTondra Brooks (32) gets introduced before the Spartans Regional championship victory over Mother McAuley. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 25, 2014 6:21AM
Two weeks ago we saluted the state-worthy efforts of Marian Catholic and Joliet Catholic. Here are a few more final thoughts about a sometimes crazy, but competitive 2013-14 girls basketball season:
The surprise team
that shouldn’t have been
Really, what was I thinking for not ranking Oak Lawn in my preseason Top 10? The Spartans had plenty of returning talent, including one of the best guards in the state in LaTondra Brooks. I came around a lot quicker than most, who kept insisting an easy schedule was the real reason that they were 25-1 going into the state playoffs. Beating Mother McAuley and Marist, then taking Marian Catholic into overtime, finally won over the last of the critics.
The worst-luck team
Everything short of a meteor hitting the building during practice left Bloom’s Ron Newquist at wits end more days than not. Before the season started he lost Kat Strong to an ACL injury. Then Danielle King went down with turf toe. Later, King and Annika Johnson suffered ankle injuries — in the same game.
This kid refused to quit ...
There were some nights when Hillcrest’s Tanzania Sherrill barely could bend down to pick up a ball. For the better part of a month she was dogged by a lower-back strain that she had suffered while lifting weights in gym class. Sherrill, however, refused to sit down, helping out on the court in any way she could, and finished the season with All-Area credentials.
... and neither did her team
Hillcrest opened the season with a 91-38 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor, the most one-sided loss in John Maniatis’ career. The Hawks got beaten up pretty good by Joliet Catholic and Crete-Monee as well. Maniatis didn’t stop teaching and his players didn’t stop learning. Finishing at 23-5, players and coach should feel proud.
The craziest story
Just before the start of the season came the revelation the IHSA was going to have its referees crack down on hand checking and blocking in the lane and coaches coming out of their boxes. It made for a weird first week in which 70-foul games were the norm. Strange stories emerged, such as the one about a coach who was T’d up because she went to retrieve a loose ball. Thankfully, kids played better and the refs calmed down as the season went on.
So good to see smiles
Two years ago, Rich Central’s girls basketball program was thrown into chaos when coach Bryan Craig had to resign after the scandal that occurred when he authored a sex instruction book for women. Few would want to be that “next guy” who takes over the program and has to rebuild trust. Craig Marek went for it, and two years later he produced one of the better teams in the Southland. The Olympians were 18-9, and on the nights I saw them looked like a team having fun again.
The biggest story
Captain Obvious checking in here with the ouster of Homewood-Flossmoor’s girls basketball team from the state playoffs after the school and coach Anthony Smith were found in violation of IHSA participation rules. It was a messy story that hasn’t seen its final chapter written yet, given that Smith’s status with the IHSA and his future at H-F are yet to be determined.
Because a “looking back at the season” column isn’t the proper forum for a long-winded commentary, I will offer for now this closing thought: If this sad situation makes any parents less obsessed with chasing success, any coaches feel less above the law, any administrators become more attentive to rules and what is going on around them, it’ll make for better future seasons.