There Meghan Waldron sat on the Bartlett bleachers, enjoying a laugh with two Wheaton Warrenville South teammates.
Watching them, you'd never guess they were minutes removed from the season's biggest win.
Waldron looked carefree, in no hurry. She seemed insulated from the emotion and pressures of the past two hours.
The three girls could just as easily have been in the school cafeteria giggling over an inside joke.
It was, yes, such a Meghan Waldron moment.
Few star players blend in as well with girls around them. Few girls stand out so much on the basketball court.
“She doesn't seek out the attention,” WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. “She wants it because we're winning basketball games.”
Waldron and WW South did, in a season like no other.
Nine games in, Waldron lost running mate Maggie Dansdill to a torn ACL. In a span of two weeks, the WW South program would lose kids at every level to a torn ACL. On top of that, Kroehnke himself broke a bone in his leg and tore ligaments in a freak accident over Christmas break. Diamond Thompson and Kelly Langlas missed time in January with injuries, and just when the Tigers seemed healthy, Sierra Bisso tore her ACL.
Through it all, WW South just kept winning. In a three-month span, the Tigers went 28-1.
The Tigers ran through the DuPage Valley Conference 14-0 and won their first sectional since 1997, the 29-4 finish tying a WW South win record.
“It definitely was a season I'll never forget,” Waldron said. “Every week it seemed like we were either crying or happy.”
Waldron was the biggest reason for that joy. Averaging 18.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.4 steals, Waldron was the only area player to rank in the top 10 in each of those categories.
She became the sixth Wheaton player to pass 1,000 points, committed to DePaul, was named Second-Team Associated Press All-State, and for the second straight year is the Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Captain. Waldron is the fourth repeat winner, joining Ashley Luke, Candace Parker and Toni Kokenis.
With Kasey Gassensmith graduated, Waldron knew that more would be expected of her this season.
Nothing could prepare her for what was in store.
In the fourth quarter of a blowout win over Naperville North, Dansdill went down with a torn ACL. Dansdill is Waldron's best friend going back to the first grade, her “partner in crime,” two girls Kroehnke jokes “share a brain.”
For the first time Waldron would have to soldier on without Dansdill.
“I'd never seen Maggie in so much pain. Seeing an injury like that, it kills you,” Waldron said. “I really felt different losing her.”
Different, but Waldron didn't miss a beat.
Waldron can at times be a reluctant scorer. That is how she is wired as a point guard.
Implored by her coach to be more aggressive, Waldron responded in some of her team's biggest moments.
Waldron scored on her team's first four possessions of overtime in a December win at Naperville Central. Two weeks later she hit a late runner to force overtime against DeKalb and took over in the extra session.
When Bisso went down in the first half of the rematch with Naperville Central, Waldron scored 26 points to rally the Tigers. Of Waldron's 14 games scoring 20-plus points, 9 came in January and February.
“If we were going to take that next step Meghan needed to fill that gap,” Kroehnke said. “As the year wore on, she got stronger.”
Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton is about as much an expert as any opposing coach on all things Waldron.
He owns a library of tape on the Tigers and threw three different defenses — man, box-and-one, 2-3 zone — at Waldron and WW South this season. Wheaton North got closer each time but never did fully crack the Waldron code.
“The other kids on South are good, but they are excellent players because of what Waldron does on the floor,” Eaton said. “She just finds ways to get teammates the ball and finds ways to make her team win.”
“That kid, she puts up Scottie Pippen-like numbers,” said Montini coach Jason Nichols, invoking the name of the versatile ex-Bulls great. “Her shot is so much better now, which complements her drive. She has a great midrange jumper which has made her that much harder to defend. And what all great players do, guard or forward, is rebound. The fact that she is a guard that rebounds the way she does sets everything else up.”
In February Waldron made her college decision, following in mom Jean Fitzpatrick Waldron's footsteps to DePaul. Fitzpatrick Waldron played for DePaul in the 1980s.
A college commitment for many high school kids is a crowning achievement to crow about. Waldron, though, wished to keep the news under wraps. That is just the mindset of a point guard who'd prefer to dish out an assist or pass along credit to teammates in a postgame interview.
Much like ex-Hinsdale Central point guard Kokenis, to whom Waldron has been compared, Waldron doesn't carry the trappings of a star player. She prefers to remain modest, at times soft-spoken.
Neither welcome attention from autograph seekers or let it get to their heads.
“I didn't want to make a big deal out of it,” Waldron said of the DePaul decision. “I can see where I stick out because I do things on the floor, but I also realize that basketball is a team game. You win and you lose as a team.”
Nichols has had the unique perspective of watching Waldron play AAU with many of Montini's kids on the Illinois Lady Lightning, back to the fifth grade. In his opinion DePaul got a steal.
“She is a very unselfish kid and she tends to blend in on AAU even more than her high school team,” he said. “The thing I noticed is that kid is taking over more games, and she has the ability to. She will dominate for longer stretches. It's been in her for a while. The kid can be even better and she is already pretty darn good.”
Eaton won't miss game planning for Waldron, but he can appreciate the friendly competitor in her.
And he'll tell you don't be fooled by that high-pitched voice and happy-go-lucky attitude. Waldron knows when it's game time.
During warmups for their sectional final, Wheaton North assistant Mike Pribaz watched Waldron shooting, turned to Eaton, and commented, “Waldron's ready to play.”
“Where most kids are wound tight, she's shooting around harder than most kids are in games. She's just an unbelievable, quiet competitor,” Eaton said. “There's just a switch that she turns on. When she turns it on, in most games it's over.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.