Role reversal can be satisfying, especially when it comes at the expense of your arch-rivals. And there’s nothing more satisfying for an Evanston basketball team than a victory over New Trier.
With 6-foot-2 sophomore post player Ambrea Gentle dominating the paint, the Wildkit girls led from start to finish in their Central Suburban League South division opener at Beardsley Gym Friday night and knocked the Trevians from the unbeaten ranks with a 53-45 triumph.
Gentle racked up career highs in points (15) and rebounds (10), helping the Kits turn the tables considering that New Trier’s post play has always been a huge obstacle in head-to-head matchups between the two programs over the past 3 decades.
ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson didn’t know much about the role reversal theory, at least from personal experience, because the win Friday moved Johnson to a perfect 3-0 against the Trevs.
But she knows a matchup advantage when she sees one and it was clear that Gentle had the edge despite her limited experience playing in the paint. She decisively outplayed 6-foot New Trier junior Taite Ryan, who finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds, as Evanston improved to 5-2 on the season and the visitors left Beardsley with a 6-1 mark.
That’s the same Ambrea Gentle who only netted a combined 5 points in her first 3 varsity games — before her learning curve started to kick in.
“Ambrea had a really good week of practice this week, and I think she’s starting to understand what it is we want her to do,” Johnson said. “We’ve been waiting for her to make her presence known, and she did that tonight. I don’t think New Trier expected that from her. We really felt we could keep dumping the ball into her in a bit of role reversal, like New Trier used to do with (former All-Stater) Jeannie Boehm. Ambrea can be our Jeannie Boehm.
“She has a lot to learn, but she shows up every day with the mindset to try to get better and she really wants to be coached. She’s only a sophomore and she’s got time to develop. I really think the sky’s the limit for her. She picked up the game late so we’ve tried to be very patient with her as coaches. With Ambrea, we should have a size advantage in every conference game we play, and we want to utilize that advantage.”
Gentle did most of her damage in the first half, collecting 9 points to help the hosts earn a 29-19 lead.
“This was my first home game and I just had to show people what I could do,” said the Evanston sophomore. “I feel like I stepped up a level tonight. I’m definitely making more layups and getting more rebounds than I did at the start of the year.
“Since all of the seniors graduated, I knew I’d be one of the only ‘bigs’ this year and I had a lot to learn. And playing varsity basketball is way more intense than JV basketball.
“We were a little nervous tonight, but we knew we could do this. It’s a big deal to beat New Trier.”
Evanston’s poise under pressure, especially considering that Gentle wasn’t the only ETHS newbie under fire in the fourth quarter for the first time, stood out especially when the Trevians closed to within 40-36 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, the Wildkits took their time and played careful basketball. Sophomore Kayla Henning finally swished a 16-foot jumper to swing the momentum back to the home team, and after a New Trier turnover, the Kits again showed their patience before junior Delaney Brooks delivered a dagger with a short jumper in the lane.
Brooks later added a 3-point basket and finished with a season-high 10 points and 3 rebounds. She shot 4-of-7 from the field.
“We were all so hyped up to beat New Trier tonight,” Brooks pointed out. “I was nervous at first, and it was nerve-wracking at the end, but we all pulled together and played our game. My teammates helped me stay composed there at the end, and there was no way that we were going to let up.
“When we had a good defensive possession, it led to a good offensive possession, and that’s what got us going.”
New Trier shot just 39 percent (16-of-41) from the field, but did outscore the Wildkits 16-15 in the fourth period.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.