When the season came to an end for the Regina girls basketball team in the Class 3A Vernon Hills Sectional championship game against the host Cougars last week, it was an emotional moment for the players.
Throughout the 2012-13 campaign, the Panthers were determined to show everyone what they were made of — and they did, winning 22 games. Regina won only six games the previous season.
But early on, the Panthers had a feeling that things would be different this time around.
“I really think that we just clicked so well from Day 1,” Regina junior Shannon Malone said. “Everyone knew their role, and from the beginning, we knew we didn’t want to have a season like last season. We wanted to show people that they can’t just disregard Regina.”
Opponents who did were often burned.
The Panthers won the Ridgewood Regional championship, and were one of just 16 teams remaining in Class 3A after beating North Chicago 63-56 in a Vernon Hills Sectional semifinal. A 42-30 loss to the host Cougars in the title game followed.
Senior Erin Gavin scored a game-high 13 points in that contest for Regina. Hundreds of Regina’s students and fans attended the postseason games, and provided tremendous vocal support even though the Panthers were on the road.
“It was an awesome year for my school and for my team,” Gavin said. “Everyone was so supportive. The whole community supported us. It was just amazing to be a part of.”
The transition from a six-win season to a 22-9 record didn’t happen easily. But Gavin thinks she knows why it did.
“Last year, we got a new coach (Kerry Durham),” Gavin said. “I think our team was adjusting. I feel like we finally built up that trust and that chemistry and connection with each other as players, and all put in the amount of hard work we needed to. And now, we all trust coach (Durham) so much. When you first get a new coach, you have to build that relationship, and I trust her with everything. The bond everyone has with her is huge. She knows what’s best for the team, and she’s an amazing coach.”
It’s a trust that extends to the school’s students, too.
“People don’t understand, when we got back to school the next day (after losing the sectional final), everyone was crying — then and after the game,” Gavin said. “I don’t think many people truly understand the bond our team has and our coaches have. We all spent so much time and gave so much time to them and to the program. I’m gonna miss it. And I’m gonna miss our fans — they were amazing.”
While Gavin and her teammates showered Durham with praise, Durham returned the favor.
“I think it takes a real special class of kids to believe in something that they haven’t been able to believe in,” Durham said. “And I know that sounds kind of cliche, but they had to overcome a lot of mental obstacles more than physical ones to go from a team with six wins to one with 22 like they did.
“They had to start buying into a while new system (when I got here), and not just believing in the system but also believing in themselves — and what they were capable of doing. Once they started to do that, and see the success they could have, it made our kids work even harder. It made them understand what it was we were trying to implement, and how much hard work it takes to reach our goals. I’m confident that next season we can be good again if we continue putting in the effort.”