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Early start is no problem for unbeaten Cougars

VernHills' Meri Bennett-Swans(50) pulls down rebound over Mundelein's Emily Panitch (15) MadisDavis (24) during their game Wednesday Dec. 26 2012

Vernon Hills' Meri Bennett-Swanson (50) pulls down a rebound over Mundelein's Emily Panitch (15) and Madison Davis (24) during their game on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, in Mundelein. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:39PM

Basketball games at 9 o’clock on the morning after Christmas are attendance-killers.

But while the fans were sleeping in, Vernon Hills High School’s girls basketball team was wide awake, and actually played one of its best games of the season in a 54-29 rout of Mundelein on Day 1 of Mundelein’s holiday tournament.

The Cougars are now 15-0 and were “rewarded” for their great effort with yet another 9 a.m. game on Thursday in Round 2.

“We surprisingly had a lot of energy this morning. It was a total team effort,” said junior star Sydney Smith, who was a key member of last year’s Vernon Hills team that finished second in the IHSA Class 3A state tourney

“Everyone passed the ball well, set screens and rebounded. We played hard for the entire 32 minutes.”

Cougars coach Paul Brettner was pleased with his team’s showing against an opponent that is much better than its 2-12 record might suggest.

“You never know how you will play at 9 a.m. after Christmas, but the girls are resilient and they came out to play,” Brettner said. “It was a fun game for us. We were able to make plays on the offensive end.

“Mundelein is always a tough matchup,” he added. “We knew they were going to come at us hard, but our girls were able to respond.”

As a team, Vernon Hills hit 23-of-56 shots from the field, with Smith scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds.

Also contributing were the other two members of the Cougars “Big 3” — Lauren Webb (13 points, 6 boards) and Meri Bennett-Swanson (10 points, 10 rebounds). Alina Lehocky also had 10 points.

Mundelein was 11-of-39 shooting, with Maggie Mahar leading with nine points.

“I was happy with our defense today,” Brettner said. “Mundelein makes its hard with their cutters, but I though we did a good job on the defensive end.”

Vernon Hills came out with energy from the opening tip. It scored the first six points on three-pointers by Webb and Smith, and led 17-8 after a quarter. They cruised into halftime up 30-18 and it was 41-25 after three periods.

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