Meadows prepares for super challenge from Evanston
First-yearRolling Meadows girlsbasketball coach Ryan Kirkorsky has the Mustangs in uncharted waters after winning their first sectional championship on Thursday.
They'll try to make another big splash on Monday night in Skokie.
The state-ranked Mid-Suburban East champs (28-3) attempt to reach the state finals for the first time in school history when they face Evanston (27-3) in Monday's Niles West supersectional at 7:30 p.m.
The winner will play in the semifinals at Redbird Arena on Friday at 6:30 p.m. against the winner of the Dundee-Crown supersectional which matches Wheaton Warrenville South (29-3) and Huntley (25-6).
Evanston is seeking a second trip to the state finals. The Wildkits won a supersectional in 1991.
Second-year coach Elliot Whitefield believes his team can compete with anyone when it plays solid defense and unselfish offense.
"You never know who is going to step up for us offensively," he said. "We have five to six kids who can score. It would be easier to coach if I knew who it was going to be but someone different seems to step up each game. It's hard to defend because you aren't sure who it's going to be."
It's been a pretty good bet juniors Jackie Kemph, Alexis Glasgow and Jenny Vliet (all average double figures) will step up for the Meadows offense.
But Ashley Montanez, Morgan Keller, Allie Kemph and Sami Kay have all shown they are quite capable of contributing offensively, too.
"That was one of the biggest things Thursday night (in a 59-50 victory over Fremd in the Libertyville sectional final), to see that we got contributions from Ashley Montanez, Morgan Keller, Allie Kemph and Sami Kay," Kirkorsky said.
Kemph, the Mid-Suburban League East Player of the Year, makes the offense go for the Mustangs. They average nearly 70 points, and that includes a season-high 95 points against sectional semifinalist Wheaton North in mid-December.
"First, we'll have to slow them down," Whitefield said. "Especially Jackie Kemph. She is an outstanding player. Obviously, we have to stop her from penetrating and shooting the ball and we have to get out on their other shooters. No. 24 (Glasgow) is a very good shooter.
"They score a lot of points and run up and down the court. If we can slow them down in the half court and make them play a half-court offense, that will benefit us. We have the ability to run with anyone as well."
Senior center Alecia Cooley (6-foot-2), junior guard Sierra Clayborn (5-0) and junior guard Dashae Shumate (5-0) average between 11 and 10 points.
While the Central Suburban South champs (9-1 with their only loss at Maine South) average in the high 40s on offense, they've held opponents to 36.0 ppg defensively.
"Defense has been our key all season," said Whitefield, who led the Wildkits to their first conference crown since 2000. "Our defensive pressure has helped us hold teams under 40 points."
Meadows players credited defense as the key to their 59-50 victory over Fremd in the sectional final.
With its 66-63 overtime victory in the MSL title game, Fremd is the only Class 4A team to beat Meadows this season.
The Mustangs' other losses were on the home floors of defending state champions.
Meadows lost 52-43 to Montini, the defending 3A champ, and 87-82 in overtime to Quincy Notre Dame, the defending Class 2A champ.
One of Evanston's most impressive wins was a 54-50 decision at Trinity, which was upset in a Class 4A regional two weeks ago.
At Thanksgiving, the Wildkits won the Deerfield Tournament with a 4-0 record and they were fourth at the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic with losses to Fenwick and Naperville Central. Cooley did not play in those games due to an ankle injury.
"I know they (Wildkits) are very athletic," said Kirkorsky, who spent the previous four seasons as the head coach at Elk Grove. "They defend in the full court, have a good post (Cooley) and a bunch of really skilled wing players."
So what type of game does he expect?
"Every game is unique," Kirkorsky said. "The tempo kind of sets itself at times. Our kids obviously like to play a certain style."
A fast-pace style that has led to a school-record 28 wins.
"If it's just flat out a track meet, we'll be in trouble," Whitefield said.
Whitefield sure won't have trouble finding the gymnasium. He teaches special education at Niles West.
"Our kids are very comfortable here," said Whitefield, who was a guard for Maine East the same year Evanston's boys basketball team took second place in the 1984 state tournament. "We've played here enough times so we are hoping it's a little bit of a homecourt advantage."
The Mustangs hope their schedule is an advantage.
"We're hoping all those tough tests throughout the season, playing in crowded gyms and against great teams, pay off at this time of the season," Kirkorsky said.
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