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Vernon Hills remains unbeaten

Updated: December 27, 2012 7:34PM

When 6-foot-2 Vernon Hills High School senior center Meri Bennett-Swanson uncharacteristically and somewhat awkwardly dribbled the ball up the court as if she were a point guard in the final minute of her team’s game against Cary-Grove Wednesday morning, it forced Cougars coach Paul Brettner to call a quick timeout.

Moments later, Brettner let out a huge smile as Bennett-Swanson approached the team’s bench, but not just because of the light-hearted moment that had just occurred. The smile was also one of relief, as it was the first time Vernon Hills was assured victory was theirs on Day 2 of the Mundelein Holiday Classic Tournament at Mundelein High School.

Despite a few tense moments late, the Cougars (16-0 overall) held on for a 44-33 win, and remain unbeaten.

Bennett-Swanson finished with a team-high 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Lauren Webb (11 points, eight boards), Alina Lehocky (nine points) and Sydney Smith (five points, seven rebounds, three steals) all chipped in for Vernon Hills.

“Cary-Grove kept it close the whole game — this was a real test for us,” Bennett-Swanson said. “We’ll be able to look back at this game and learn from it. Playing a team like this is a constant reminder that we have to be mentally prepared every time we play, no matter what.”

The Cougars led by as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter, but Cary-Grove (8-5) refused to quit. Twice, the Trojans had opportunities to make it a two-possession game down the stretch, thanks in large part to Olivia Jakubicek’s game-high 20 points and six rebounds.

After quickly picking up her third and fourth fouls midway through the third quarter, Jakubicek was forced to remain on the bench until the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. She scored eight points in the game’s final four minutes, but it was too little, too late.

“The difference in the game was they played as a unit, and we didn’t at times,” Cary-Grove coach Rod Saffert said. “I’m not questioning the heart of our girls, but that was the difference. We were a one-man show out there for a while. Some of our other players needed to step up. I felt like we were right there with them almost all game.”

Both clubs were sound defensively. Vernon Hills shot just 14-for-41 from the field, while Cary-Grove — who missed 11 of its 12 three-point attempts — was only 12-for-45.

After the game, Brettner said he doesn’t think his unbeaten team needs to lose a game during the regular season in order to “learn a lesson.”

“We’re learning plenty of lessons without losing,” Brettner said. “We’re facing some pretty good competition. I think we played pretty well as a team today. They’re (Cary-Grove) a scary team.”

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