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Girls basketball: A season to remember

Fenwick, Trinity and OPRF produce plenty of notable wins, highlights

March 9th, 2018 11:22 AM

Fenwick senior Kate Moore, left, and OPRF junior Ahsha Spencer are both extremely versatile players. Both can score, pass, rebound and defend at a high level. (File photo)

Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

With the high school spring sports season starting to kick in this month, here's a final review of the Fenwick, Oak Park and River Forest and Trinity girls basketball teams.

While none of the teams won a sectional title, there were plenty of highlights and excitement provided by the Blazers, Friars and Huskies.

Let's start with the school that advanced the furthest in the state tournament. At first glance, one may look at Fenwick's 16-18 record and believe it was a down year. In my opinion, that was far from the case.

The Friars advanced to the Class 3A St. Joseph Sectional title game, falling to eventual 3A runner-up Nazareth Academy 63-58.

"Our game against Nazareth was as exciting and well-played as any of the games played downstate," Power said. "As a matter of fact, it may have been the state championship game played in Westchester (St. Joseph Regional final). It was a heartbreaking loss, but I couldn't be more proud of our girls. They were a heartbeat away from advancing to the state finals."

In her final game, Kate Moore scored 20 points to lead Fenwick. Afterwards, Power praised Moore and fellow senior McKenzie Blaze for their help in leading the Friars back to respectability. 

"Their freshman year, our program was really down," he said. "They've taken us right back to the heights. We were a play or two away from a likely trip to Redbird Arena (state finals site). Kate and McKenzie are not only captains, they're leaders. They led this team almost to the grand finale."

Indeed, Blaze and Moore were truly a dynamic duo as each scored over 1,000 points during their high school careers. Their efforts were also noticed by the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference, as they were named to the all-conference team, along with sophomore guard Shelia Hogan. 

The Friars' challenging schedule also played a role in the program's resurgence this year. In addition to Nazareth, Fenwick played eventual 4A runner-up Montini, Loyola, Trinity, New Trier, Homewood-Flossmoor, Marist, Mother McAuley and Stevenson - all highly-regarded Chicago-area teams. Having faced these teams who have various styles of play helped the Friars come playoff time. A nice run to the sectional final was the fruit of the team's hard work. 

"I'm very proud of the fact we didn't play any cupcakes for dessert. We only played the main entrees," Power said. "It was a great season with a lot of success and fun."

There is no doubt that seniors like Blaze, Moore and Margaret Planek will be missed next season. Fortunately, talented players return, including Hogan, Lily Reardon, Maggie Van Ermen, Gianna Ortiz and Katie Schneider. Under the guidance of Power, who has won well over 900 games in his career, Fenwick should remain competitive next season.

TRINITY

The Blazers played a challenging schedule in order to prepare for the postseason. Trinity finished with a 19-8 record, losing in the New Trier Regional title game to the host Trevians 67-42.

Still, Trinity swept its crosstown rivals Fenwick (twice) and OPRF. The win over the Huskies on Dec. 7 was especially exciting as the visiting Blazers prevailed in overtime 65-64. Standout seniors Alex Fanning (28 points, 14 rebounds) and Lauren Lee (19 points) powered Trinity to victory.

"It's a rivalry game. It brings the best out of everybody," Trinity coach Mike Valente said. "I thought the fans were awesome and it was a great atmosphere to play this game in."

Valente was especially appreciative of Lee's efforts throughout the season. The senior averaged 11 points, 5 assists, and 3 steals per game.

"Lauren is a rock," he said. "She does a little of everything. She guards the best player, shoots the ball well, controls the tempo, and her length gives teams a lot of trouble.

"Her intelligence on the court really is the difference-maker for us," he said about Lee, who will attend the University of California, Santa Barbara in the fall. "She keeps all our kids under control and she knew what we wanted to do. It's a big win for us."

Fanning, a 6-foot-3 senior forward who has yet to decide where she will play collegiately in the fall, was a consistent force in the paint for Trinity. She averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. Fanning received frontcourt help from highly touted freshman Makiyah Williams (averaged 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks per game), who showed that she could be one of the state's top players in the Class of 2021. At the York Thanksgiving tournament, she showed glimpses of her enormous potential with a double-double performance of 24 points and 12 rebounds. 

Lee, Fanning and Kelcie Leyden provided good senior leadership for a young but talented Trinity team. Though their departures will undoubtedly be felt in the fall, there is plenty of good talent returning that should ensure continued competitiveness for Trinity. In addition to Williams, guards Dayjah Chmielewski and Zyerra Stafford return. Chmielewski and Stafford will be juniors starting their third varsity season.

OPRF

Finally, let's look at OPRF. The Huskies finished with an overall record of 13-16 and bowed out in a Lane Tech Regional semifinal to Evanston 57-44 on Feb. 13. Like Fenwick, the record is deceiving. The Huskies played a difficult schedule, participating in the prestigious Montini Holiday Classic as well as the Benet/Naperville North tournament. Both featured several of the Chicago area's best teams and allowed the Huskies to gain valuable experience. 

Unfortunately, injuries to key players proved to be the real culprit for OPRF's sub-500 record. Junior guard Darse Sanchez was averaging 18 points per game when she suffered a serious knee injury in January that sidelined her for the rest of the season. Senior leaders Amaya Coleman, Carrington McGowan and Maeve Nelson also suffered injuries that caused them to miss several games. All returned near season's end. 

OPRF started the season 6-1 and during that stretch defeated crosstown rival Fenwick 77-71 Nov. 30 at the OPRF Fieldhouse. Junior guard Ahsha Spencer's 26 points and Nelson's 20 points were enough to overcome Moore's 31 points and Blaze's 17 points and 21 rebounds. 

"Moore played out of her mind just like we predicted she would," OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin said after the win. "I thought it was going to be a struggle against Fenwick. We just kept grinding."

"It feels great," added Nelson, a Northwestern softball signee. "I'm more of a hustle player than skillful and basketball is about hustle. In basketball, you get to display your athletic ability more than you do in softball. We were excited to play this game. Everybody contributed and it was a good win."

Other notable highlights included Sanchez's 32-point effort in the aforementioned Trinity game, and a 48-45 upset of West Suburban Conference Silver Division champion Glenbard West, which had a 19-game winning streak at the time. 

Despite losing Coleman, McGowan and Nelson to graduation, OPRF could be a good team next season. Sanchez and Spencer return, along with Cici Garland and Faith Smith, both of whom played well in the absences of Sanchez and other players. If they can stay healthy, which has been a continual issue, the Huskies have the talent to possibly win conference and perform well in the postseason.

RETURN TO GLORY

During the memorable and exciting 2002-2003 season, Fenwick, OPRF and Trinity were all ranked in the Top 10 of the girls basketball polls.

Trinity defeated a 30-win OPRF team led by Aubrey Hampton in the Trinity Sectional final 46-44. The Blazers advanced to the AA state quarterfinals. Led by Erin Lawless and Kristin Heidloff, Fenwick advanced to the state title game, where the Friars lost 63-59 in overtime to Naperville Central and the Redhawks' star player Candace Parker.

Fenwick went 34-3, OPRF 30-3 and Trinity 27-8 during that remarkable season. By any measure, local high school girls basketball represented a zenith of collective success and popularity. The Oak Park and River Forest communities were excited and thrilled with all the outstanding play being shown by the schools. The area was regarded as a hoops hotbed for girls basketball. To watch all three excel on the hardwood at the same time was unheard of and a source of pride.

Here's to hoping all three programs regain such lofty heights simultaneously again.