Stevenson grows up fast at holiday tourney

SHARE Stevenson grows up fast at holiday tourney
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LINCOLNSHIRE — Basketball coaches often talk about their team’s maturation rate, correlating the rapidity of that process with success.

Over winter break, the Stevenson girls basketball team reached a new level of development.

Playing in Dundee-Crown’s tournament, the Patriots won three of four games. The better signifier of the Patriots’ advancement is how quickly they rebounded from their lowest point.

On Dec. 27, Stevenson played Prospect. At halftime, the Patriots trailed 41-14. The deficit swelled to 32 in the second half before Stevenson eventually lost, 69-41.

“It was very unsettling for us and for the coaches. That’s not the Stevenson Patriots we know we can be,” junior guard Sophia Way said.

One advantage of playing holiday tournaments is the quick turnaround time. Stevenson had less than 24 hours to think about the Prospect debacle. On Dec. 28, the Patriots held Hononegah to 24 points in an easy 42-24 win.

But it was a game against Barrington Dec. 30 that yielded the team’s true cobwebs-rattling bounceback. For most of the season, Stevenson coach Tom Dineen has used six players to play the bulk of the minutes. Way, Taylor Buford and Melanie Despanich are juniors. The other three are sophomores Janine Fajardo, Jessica Burke and freshman Ashley Richardson.

“We try and go with the hot hand and what’s working defensively that night,” Dineen said. “It’s not like we have a starting five. I think we have six kids that are interchangeable.”

Against Barrington, Dineen went with a lineup of Way, Buford, Despanich, Fajardo and Richardson for almost the entire second half. A 10-point deficit was wiped away as each Patriot showcased her strengths. Way was a steady hand, draining key 3-pointers on her way to a game-high 21 points. Then there was Buford attacking the basket and cleaning up the boards (five for the game). Richardson, a new addition to the starting lineup, played point guard along with Fajardo. More of a slashing guard than Fajardo, Richardson regularly got to the free throw line (making 7 of 8 for the game).

And on defense, it was Despanich guarding Barrington’s 6-foot-2 center Megan Talbot. At 5-11, Despanich gives three inches to Talbot. But she held her own, helped by the Patriots’ switch to a 2-3 zone defense that allowed the guards to drop down and bracket Talbot.

“Everybody has contributions on offense and defense. We all have roles to play,” Despanich said. “We all have our responsibilities. That’s what brings us together. No one person wins the game.”

Stevenson’s 65-61 overtime win was proof. No victory by the Patriots this season has been more of a collective effort.

“We kept chipping away, point by point, possession by possession,” Way said. “I was proud of our girls and how we handled ourselves. No one gave up, and everyone was flying around.”

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