Big road wins at New Trier and at Glenbrook South gave the Evanston girls basketball team a lift during the first half of the season.
But the biggest boost of all came when the Wildkits performed on the biggest stage Saturday night at the City-Suburban Showdown hosted by Whitney Young.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of ETHS supporters, Evanston downed 11th-ranked Young 50-38 in a physical confrontation and performed with the grit necessary to do some damage when postseason play begins in another month.
Now 19-3 overall, the Kits thrived behind double figure performances from Allysah Boothe (13 points, 4 assists), Leighah-Amori Wool (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Krystal Forrester (13 points, 10 rebounds) and rose to the occasion in a rare appearance at a showcase event for girls teams.
First-year head coach Brittanny Johnson was responsible for getting the school invited to participate in the event hosted annually by the Chicago Public Schools and relished the big win on a big stage.
“No. 1, Whitney Young doesn’t lose at home,” Johnson pointed out. “I knew it would be a tough one for our girls when we scheduled it. But our girls have not really been able to showcase their skills outside the North Shore much, and a lot of people just haven’t seen us play and may have wondered if we were ranked too high (No. 9 in the Chicago area). So the girls understood that this was a great opportunity to show what Evanston is all about, to show just who they are.
“Whitney Young plays a different style (more physical) of pressure defense than we’re used to seeing in our conference. But our guards, especially Allysah, handled it so well and found a way to fight through it. We got a taste of that back in the summer when we played Marshall (and rallied from a 20-point deficit to win), and that’s the kind of pressure that can really wear you down.”
Instead of wearing down, the Wildkits owned the second half after leading by just 2 points at the intermission. And the balance that typically finds two or three ETHS players in double figures every game might just separate the Kits from the competition as they seek only the second trip to the Illinois High School Association state finals in program history next month.
Even with 5 starters returning from last year’s team, Johnson knew that she had to develop depth as part of the new culture she brought to ETHS.
“We have a great player in Leighah (the all-time leading girls scorer), but the foundation we laid in the summer is that this is a team game,” the coach said.
“Obviously we still depend on Leighah, but the strength of our team is our depth and sometimes even I don’t know who will lead us on a given night. And I think that’s what makes us a dangerous team.
“The roles for all of them switch depending on which game we’re playing. And I think it’s so important that the younger girls get their opportunities now, instead of just sitting and watching the seniors. I made the decision early on that we were going to use everybody, and now we’re a team where you have to guard all 5 players that are out there on the court.”
Evanston’s depth came into play in the first half when the bench had to fight a holding action as Leah Robinson picked up 3 personal fouls and four other starters were tagged with 2 fouls apiece. “Our ability to fight through that was huge,” Johnson said.
“The New Trier win was bigger for the girls, but this was still a big win. We have struggled lately (3-3 record over the previous 6 games), but now I think we’re ready to make our run. Beating Young at Young was a morale boost for us and that win showed them that they’re still the team that went into the Christmas tournament undefeated.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.