Rolling Meadows girls head to state for first time
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One week after being hired as the Rolling Meadows girls basketball coach last May, Ryan Kirkorsky met with his new players in a classroom after school.
He handed out a survey with one of the questions asking each player's goals for the upcoming season.
Moments after the meeting ended, an anxious Kirkorsky looked over the responses.
"The majority of the kids' said there top goal was to go downstate," he said.
Considering that had not happened at the District 214 school since the state tournament began in 1977, you could say that was thinking awfully big.
Meadows got its biggest win in school history on Monday night in Skokie.
The Mustangs became the school's first girls basketball team to advance to the state finals with a convincing 54-31 triumph over Evanston at the Niles West supersectional in Evanston.
Using a balanced scoring attack by Jenny Vliet (14 points, 10 rebounds), Alexis Glasgow (12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals), Jackie Kemph (11 points, 6 assists) and Ashley Montanez (8 points, 7 rebounds), the Mustangs (29-3) lived up to their state ranking in Class 4A and will face will face Huntley (26-6) in Friday's semifinal at Illinois State's Redbird Arena.
"This is amazing," Vliet said. "We've been talking about this since second grade. It's so awesome to see all the work pay off."
"It feels great to be the first girls basketball team to do this at Meadows," said junior guard Sami Kay, one of five underclassmen who start for the Mustangs. "This was our No. 1 goal. It feels good to be able to check it off. We knew they (Evanston) were going to pressure us. So it wasn't a shock to us. We were prepared for it."
While opposing teams prepare to face one of the state's most explosive offensive teams, it was Meadows' defense that made the difference on Monday.
"Absolutely our best of the season," Kirkorsky said. "Our kids followed the game plan beautifully. One of the things people have said about us is that we like to score but we don't play much defense.
"But the kids bought into our game plan and it was our defensive rebounding that won the game for us."
After Sierra Clayborn's 3-pointer gave Evanston a 3-0 lead, Meadows ran off 10 straight points, including 3-pointers by Glasgow and Kemph.
Ashley Montanez' layup gave Meadows a 17-12 lead early in the second quarter before Dashae Shumate hooked in a shot in the lane to close the deficit to 17-14.
After 2 free throws by Kemph, Shumate hit a 15-foot pull up jumper to narrow the deficit to 19-16 with 4:02 left in the half.
But that's as close as the Wildkits (27-4) got.
The Mustangs' defense kicked in and did not allow the Central Suburban North champs another basket until Erin Boothe hit a 12-footer in the lane with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
Meadows' 17-2 run which lasted 10:23 was capped by Vliet's rebound layup giving the Mid-Suburban East champs a 36-18 lead.
Evanston never got closer than 13.
Kemph had her share of drives to the basket and once again took advantage of adjacent open players.
"And we had her (Kemph) at the front of our full-court pressure defense," Kirkorsky said. "To see everything she does for us on the floor, I couldn't ask for anything more. To me, she is the best point guard in the state."
Evanston 6-foot-2 senior Alecia Cooley has been one of the top posts in the area. She and teammate Sierra Clayborn both had 8 points.
"I thought Ashley did a great job on Cooley and Jenny a great job on Shumate," Kirkorsky said.
The Mustangs never let up on defense and allowed only 1 field goal — a 3-pointer by Seara Clayborn — in the fourth quarter in addition to 3 free throws.
The 3-pointer got Evanston to within 41-28 but Meadows closed with a 13-1 run including a stretch of 4 straight free throws by Glasgow.
"Alexis (Glasgow) had some big free throws down the stretch," Kirkorsky said of his sharpshooting guard, who recently committed to Northwestern.
"I don't believe it," Glasgow said of the trip downstate. "This is everything we have worked for all season."
Kirkorsky gave credit to all the work of those before he became the head coach.
"I really want to credit those people," said Kirkorsky, who spent the prior four seasons as the head coach at Elk Grove. "Because they really laid the groundwork for what has happened this season.
"I don't think it's hit me yet. We'll celebrate (Monday night). And it's the greatest feeling in the world to get back to practice and play another game."
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