Jackie Kemph might not have been the picture-perfect guard that Rolling Meadows fans are used to seeing on Monday night, but Jenny Vliet was all Mustangs fans could have asked for and more in leading Rolling Meadows to a 54-31 victory over Evanston in the IHSA 4A Niles West Supersectional.
The junior forward finished the game with 14 points, but more importantly, she dominated the boards against the Wildkits. Fellow junior forward Ashley Montanez also played a critical role, beautifully denying the ball inside, where Evanston senior center Alecia Cooley can be so dominant.
“We talked during the week,” Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky said. “I mean we saw Cooley and she played well against Maine South the other night, and we were like ‘Are we going to have to double? What are we going to have to do to her?’ And I thought Ashley, for the most part, handled her great on her own.”
The Mustangs held Cooley to eight points on the night.
Rolling Meadows pulled away in the fourth quarter, outscoring Evanston, 16-6. Junior guard Sierra Clayborn contributed to the effort with two three-pointers and junior guard Dashae Shumate dazzled fans with five points in the second quarter, but ultimately the Mustangs’ defense was simply too tight.
“That’s one of the things that people said about our team this year is that we like to score and people would say that we don’t play much defense,” Kirkorsky said. “You watch Evanston on tape and they’ve got some great athletes and you’re not sure until you get out here, but our kids bought into our game plan. It was defensive rebounding. It wasn’t necessarily pretty on the offensive end, but we played great defense and hit the defensive boards.”
The Wildkits hung around at first, after trailing early 10-3, as Clayborn knocked down a three-pointer and Cooley pivoted around her defender for a layup and then swished a short jumper to draw Evanston within two points. Cooley began the second quarter with a bank shot as well, but the Mustangs answered with a layup from Vliet and a beautiful pass inside from Kemph to Montanez. A floater by Shumate again drew Evanston within three early in the second quarter, but Rolling Meadows responded with a 17-3 run. Fittingly, it was Montanez capping off the run on the boards, putting back a miss from junior guard Alexis Glasgow to double up on the Wildkits.
“We picked a bad time to really not play well,” Evanston coach Elliott Whitefield said. “We did a lot of standing around offensively and defensively. Part of it was, I’m sure, us, but I’m sure most of it is because of what they were doing.”
For the Mustangs, the journey only continues as they make the trip to Normal, Ill., to take on Huntley, which defeated WW South, 47-43, in its supersectional contest, on Friday night. It has been a magical journey for Kirkorsky, who said that this is the first time he is aware of that Rolling Meadows made it to state.
“This is a dream for a coach, for every player, for the school, for the administration and, especially, for our community,” Kirkorsky said.