It was a magical season for the Rolling Meadows girls basketball team.
But that wasn't an illusion fans were seeing when junior Jackie Kemph, like a blur, would sneak past defenders and swish a layup for one of her team-high 642 points this season.
“What separates Jackie from any boy or girl I've seen is her body control,” said Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky. “And her ability to finish.”
Finishing the season at Redbird Arena in Normal has been a dream for Kemph and her teammates since the days of playing for Meadows' feeder team coached by Matt Vliet and his assistant, Jackie's father Rich.
Kemph and Co. became only the third team from the Mid-Suburban League to play for a state title.
They brought back the Class 4A second-place trophy and were less than a second away from first place when Marian Catholic hit a buzzer-beating rim shot for a 48-47 victory.
“It was an awesome experience being downstate with my team and getting to this stage is just great for everyone,” Kemph said. “I think we will take a lot out of it. I'm really proud of everyone on the team.
“I can't say it was a disappointing season because we had an awesome time together. It was just a hard way to end. The shot at the buzzer. That's always hard.”
Kemph plays as hard as anyone — and most coaches will tell you, harder.
That's one of the many reasons she has been selected honorary captain of the Daily Herald's all-area girls basketball team.
Whether it was her brilliant ability to penetrate a team's defense and dish the ball to a teammate (team-high 252 assists), connecting on a 3-pointer (18 for the season) or forcing a turnover with relentless pressure, Kemph was a difference maker.
The 5-foot-6 guard even had 98 rebounds.
“Jackie has the ability to control a game in so many different ways,” Kirkorsky said. “Scoring, attacking and setting up teammates and with her ball pressure at the top of our defense.”
And no one can forget the way she seemingly glides through the air past defenders for baskets that demoralize the opposition.
“I don't really practice that,” Kemph said. “It just kind of happens.”
What Kemph helped make happen has been unprecedented at Meadows.
The Mustangs set a school record for wins (30-4) while capturing the school's first sectional, supersectional and semifinal in the state tournament.
“Nick (Nichols, assistant coach) and I say it all the time,” Kirkorsky said. “Jackie does things in practice and games that just leaves us in amazement.”
Her amazing career began when she used to watch her older brother Rich, a high-scoring guard for Meadows boys team.
“I went to all his games,” Jackie said. “He was really a good shooter and attacked the basket well. I liked practicing with him at the park and in the driveway.”
Jackie has another family member with whom she practices — her twin sister Allie, who also played a key role as the Mustangs reserve guard.
Jackie and Allie are No. 1 double partners for the Mustangs girls tennis team.
They missed reaching all-state status by one round last spring.
“We're always shooting together and doing things together,” Jackie said. “It's nice to be able to take what we do in practice and then do it with our team and in front of the fans.”
Allie knows all about her sister's competitiveness.
“She's very competitive, she always wants to win at whatever we do,” said Allie, a three-sport athlete who is also a defender for the Mustangs soccer team. “We motivate' each other.
“I always saw her becoming a point guard. She was always faster than everyone.”
Allie loves being on the court with her sister.
“It's so fun,” she said. “She calms me down and encourages me.
“My favorite thing is playing tennis with her. It's just us out there. Jackie stays so calm but she is so competitive.”
The Mustangs see that in practice every day.
“Jackie won't let anyone she is playing with or against take a minute off in practice,” Kirkorsky said. “She forces her teammates to rise to her level.”
A level that also reaches high standards in the classroom where she owns a 5.34 GPA on a 5.0 scale.
Kemph already scored a 28 on the ACT.
But so indicative of her competitive nature, a 28 wasn't good enough for her.
“I am taking classes to prepare to take the ACT again,” she said.
She is also preparing to pick a college and can't wait to get back on the court with her Illinois Elite AAU basketball team on Tuesday.
Kemph plans to study math and science field in college.
“My favorite subject is math,” Kemph said. “In other subjects there are multiple ways doing things but in math you have to solve a problem and there's just one answer.”
Kirkorsky provided answers for Kemph and the Mustangs this season.
“He's awesome — I think he taught our team so much,” Kemph said. “Without him, I don't think we would have gotten where we did because he puts so much time and effort into it.”
Kirkorsky will be the first to tell you no one put the time into it like Kemph.
She will return next season with all of her teammates but one.
Chances are she could be waving the wand for another magical season.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.