Once Brittanny Johnson made it clear that even with 5 starters back from last year’s girls basketball team, that all positions were wide open, the first-year Evanston head coach created another problem for herself.
Namely, figuring the right combinations of players coming off the bench in support of those starters.
So far, so good. With the bench contributing 19 points and 13 rebounds, the Wildkits crushed previously unbeaten Maine West 54-40 Tuesday night in their home opener at Beardsley Gym and stormed to their sixth straight victory to start the season.
Starters Krystal Forrester (15 points, 7 rebounds) and Leighah-Amori Wool (10 points, 11 rebounds) showed the way for the winners in the Central Suburban League crossover contest. The Kits will open CSL South division play on Friday at Maine South, and a deep bench could help bring an edge in what figures to be a highly-competitive battle for the division crown with Glenbrook South, Maine South and New Trier.
Freshman guard Kayla Henning added 9 points and 3 rebounds off the bench and it might only be a matter of time before she cracks the starting lineup. She also excelled in the last two games at the Schaumburg Thanksgiving Tournament.
“How to use the bench has turned out to be the toughest thing for me as a coach, because they’re all working so hard they all deserve to be out there,” Johnson said. “We know we have a deep team, and we want to utilize the bench as much as we can and keep the starters fresh. The bench did a great job for us tonight.
“I told the girls in the summer that everyone had to work for a position, and I always tell them that effort will be rewarded. I’m not totally satisfied with way we played tonight, but that’s the most points we’ve scored all season, and Maine West is a great team. They fought us the entire game.”
Evanston built leads of 18-7 and 29-15 in front of an appreciative home crowd, but staggered down the stretch in the first half when the Warriors scored the last 9 points to cut the deficit to just 29-24.
The hosts responded by outscoring the Warriors 13-8 in the third period as six different Wildkits scored, and played keep-away for the last 3 minutes of the game led by the backcourt of Henning and Allysah Boothe (6 points, 3 steals).
Henning’s ability to find shots when she’s surrounded by the second unit, plus the fact that she has meshed seamlessly with the older starters, means there’s no dropoff when Johnson turns to the bench.
“Kayla’s teammates trust her and believe in her, and she already has a great foundation in her game,” the coach praised. “She’s really starting to pick up her game and remember, she’s 14 years old playing against 17 and 18-year-olds. She’s something special as a player and when she gets to playing with confidence, she’ll really be scary.”
Maine West, in its first season without veteran head coach Derril Kipp who passed away in the summer, was paced by sophomore Rachel Kent with 19 points. She only mustered 6 points in the second half.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.