North Chicago’s girls basketball team earning respect with an unlikely postseason surge that now has it playing in a sectional
By Bryan Bonato Special to The News-Sun February 17, 2013 5:34PM
Johnsburg-02/14/13, Fri./Johnsburg High School #23 Justice Moore, of North Chicago takes a high pass vs. #12 Kathleen Felicelli, of Carmel. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media
MARCH MADNESS FOR GIRLS
CLASS 3A VERNON HILLS SECTIONAL TUESDAY’S SEMIS
VERNON HILLS SECTIONAL
Regina Dominican (21-8) vs. North Chicago (13-14), 7:30
Vernon Hills 44, Grayslake C. 37
Vernon Hills 70, North Chicago 47
Vernon Hills 58, North Chicago 44
CLASS 4A LIBERTYVILLE SECTIONAL MONDAY’S SEMIS
Palatine Fremd (23-7) vs. Zion-Benton (19-9), 7:30
Rolling Meadows 69, Fremd 64
Rolling Meadows 78, Zion-Benton 65
Fremd 66, Rolling Meadows 63
Fremd 62, Zion-Benton 47
Zion-Benton 48, Stevenson 35
Zion-Benton 67, Stevenson 47
Updated: April 19, 2013 2:20AM
When’s the last time North Chicago High School’s boys basketball team had to cut practice short on a Saturday in mid-February because the school’s girls team needed the gym to prepare for an IHSA sectional game?
Not even current North Chicago boys basketball coach King Coleman — who had to cut his practice short on Saturday to make way for the girls — can remember. And he goes way back at North Chicago, as he was a student there in the 1970s.
Truth is, nobody involved in North Chicago athletics can pinpoint a girls team winning a regional. And there is no huge trophy case in the school hallway where you can search for the elusive regional-title plaque, though some say a regional title was won once.
What’s past is past. In the present, North Chicago is a regional champion, as it posted a semi-shocking 64-60 win over Carmel last Friday in the finals of the Class 3A Johnsburg Regional.
And so, there they all were at noon on Saturday — North Chicago’s boys team symbolically passing the baton in the form of relinquishing court time so that the girls team could begin preparations for Tuesday’s game against Regina Dominican in the Vernon Hills Sectional.
“It’s just really exciting. Normally, we’d be here having our last team meeting (on Saturday) and talking about next year,” said North Chicago coach Lawrence Brown. “Instead, we’re still practicing. It’s created a great atmosphere. I think these kids welcome the challenge. They have the attitude and the confidence that they can win right now, and that can get contagious.
“If there’s a Cinderella team in the tournament, it would be us.”
The other three teams in the sectional — Vernon Hills, Grayslake Central and Regina Dominican (a Catholic all-girls school located in Wilmette) are all 20-win teams, while North Chicago is 13-14.
But that nothing-special record is neither coach Brown’s fault nor the players’ fault.
The coach and team were hamstrung all season because 6-0 freshman Tineesha Coleman reportedly was barred from playing varsity basketball by her father, and instead played on the school’s freshman team until the playoffs began.
Not only is Coleman the best player in the school, but she makes her teammates better. Her 28-point, 17-rebound performance against highly regarded Carmel was her breakout game. And if she’d been allowed to play varsity ball all season, North Chicago also would be a 20-win team in the sectional.
Instead, they are an unbelievably dangerous 10th-seed, which already has taken out the No. 2 seed (Carmel) and now has its sights set on Regina Dominican.
“I haven’t seen them play, but I saw where they seeded us,” said Brown. “They had us in the 16 spot, so evidently they don’t think that much of us. Our record deceives people. Our emphasis heading into Tuesday’s game is going to be on competing.
“We don’t know much about them, but I’ve talked to a couple coaches who played them, and we’ll see if they can get us some footage.”
Coleman is the grand-daughter of King Coleman. Her presence, along with that of several other freshmen, has taken the pressure off senior leader Dara Tanner (12 points per game and one of the smartest kids at the school; she’s going to Lake Forest College next year) and the other veteran players.
Tanner’s been a varsity player forever, and she’d never experienced the thrill of victory on regional Friday night.
“When we came out on Friday, we were really focused. We’ve never won a championship game, so as seniors it was important to us to get everybody motivated,” she said. “We didn’t want it to be our last high school game. We came out with the attitude that we were going to win. When it happened, I was at a loss for words. It’s something really special to me.”
Coach Brown was happy for all his seniors — Tanner, Monique Greathouse, Natajjae Franklin, Justice Moore, Lyric Pearson, and Shadezja Garrett.
“They got to experience winning back-to-back games in the state tournament and winning a regional. It’s a great thing for girls basketball at North Chicago itself,” the coach said. “For myself, just being around these kids, watching them react and how they’ve matured and taken on the challenge of beating teams that are ranked above them, has been great.”
He added that adding four freshman and a sophomore to the seniors and juniors Carolyn Leonard and Sharon Pierce has produced magical results.
“They’ve been pushing each other every day at practice. Our practices have become so competitive, it’s almost like a game,” Brown said. “That’s raised our intensity level and really brought out the defense in this team, which is what we need to win games.”
Besides Coleman, the other freshmen are 5-7 point guard Zyaire Strowder, 5-3 Alex Means, and Tavoria Hollman, plus sophomore Tiara Garrett.
The final word goes to Tanner, who knows that the currently taking the floor for the Warhawks is capable of winning on Tuesday.
“Tineesha really showed up Friday night, and so did our other freshmen” the senior said. “We need everybody right now if we’re going to keep going.”
Going, that is, to the sectional finals, and also perhaps going through the school attic to see if there really is a regional championship plaque from the 1970s.