Westminster Christian’s girls basketball team is a junior and sophomore-laden squad without a single senior, and players remember last year’s three-point Class 1A sectional final loss to Seton Academy.
“That was not a fun day,” junior guard McKaila Hays said.
After a season highlighted by a couple of invitational tournament championships and the school’s first girls team conference title, the Warriors are now ready to get back to where they were last year in the postseason — if not beyond.
“State,” Hays said. “That’s our goal. It’s day by day, but we want to get to be regional champs, then sectional champs, then state.”
With a 22-4 record, the Warriors are top seeds at the Harvest Christian Class 1A Regional, which begins Monday with a play-in game between the fourth-seeded hosts and fifth-seeded Waukegan’s Cristo Rey St. Martin (7:30 p.m.).
Westminster plays the winner of that game Tuesday at 6 p.m., followed by the game between second-seeded Christian Liberty and third-seeded Elgin Academy. Thursday’s title game is at 7:30.
“It doesn’t hurt that we only have to go 1,500 feet for our regional,” said Westminster coach Ken Flickinger, whose school hosts a sectional the following week.
Although the Warriors are a junior-dominated team, it’s been a freshman who leads them. Forward Maddie Versluys knows only what she’s been told about the team’s disappointing season finale.
“I had no idea about this school at all last year,” Versluys said. “It was just kind of over the summer. We were in Downers Grove, then my dad (Fred, former Larkin star athlete) got a junior high principal job here and it was just all the sudden.”
The 5-foot-8 Versluys is at her best inside playing like a 6-footer. She averages a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game while scoring a team-best 11.6 points per game.
“She just works really, really hard to get the ball,” Flickinger said of Versluys. “And that’s why she gets so many touches. We’re trying to teach some of our other players who have tremendous quickness that if you work hard without the ball then you’ll touch it more and have more opportunities.”
Hays leads the well-balanced, deep team with 30 three-pointers and 3.4 steals per game, while post player Claire Speweik has been an inside force with 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
The Warriors last year relied on the three-pointer, but they have less than half as many as last year with 49 as a team. And it’s largely because many of their points come off the turnovers they’ve forced.
“Our defense has been consistently solid, and we’re scoring a lot off our defense, but we can still shoot the three,” Flickinger said. “Our assists are way up so we have been getting it inside.
“Our kids have passed up a lot of threes, but there may come a time in the tournament down the road when we need that ability to shoot the three and it’s good to know it’s there.”
Westminster carries a 13-game winning streak into the regional and hasn’t been beaten since a 46-40 loss Dec. 21 to Hampshire. The Warriors had a few players arrive late for that one, and they didn’t use their normal starters.
There are questions about how the Warriors can stack up against more severe competition. Their schedule had numerous walkovers, including games when they held Mooseheart and Keith Country Day to four points and Elgin Academy to six.
The regional field isn’t strong, but they’re taking nothing for granted after beating second-seeded Christian Liberty by 17 and 21 this season.
“You never know what can happen when you’re facing a team for the third or fourth time in a season,” Flickinger said.
The Warriors haven’t garnered much support statewide despite their impressive numbers. They’ve failed to break into the state Associated Press girls rankings this year and will likely be big underdogs if they do get all the way through a sectional because defending state champ and No. 1-ranked Freeport Aquin is in the same supersectional bracket.
“That’s all about reputation, really,” said Flickinger, who served on a state ranking committee last year. “There are people downstate who don’t have any idea who we are.
“But it’s a good motivational tool, good bulletin board fodder.”
All for a team that seems to need little motivation beyond its memory of last year’s sectional.
“Yes, they’re very self-motivated,” Flickinger said.