By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Despite the results last weekend in downstate Normal, Chicago Public Schools girl’s basketball programs gave notice they are going to be a force to be reckoned with over the coming years. While Morgan Park and Whitney Young finished fourth in Class 3A and 4A respectively, North Lawndale College Prep managed to get to the 3A title game before losing to defending champion Morton. It was the first time the district sent three teams to the state finals in history. Other CPS programs like Bogan, Marshall, Phillips and Kenwood all won regional titles this year to advance to the round of the top 32 in the state in their class.
North Lawndale pulled out a thrilling 59-57 double overtime win over Highland in the semifinals to earn their first trip to the state championship game. The Phoenix was led by Kia Brooks who hit multiple clutch free throws late in the game to seal the win for the Phoenix who finished the season with a record of 23-12. For Coach Corey Morgan, he said the experience of going downstate is something he and his players will never forget.
“This season we were able to accomplish things that have never been done in our school’s history and that is something to be proud of,” said Morgan after his team lost in the championship game 58-41. “We played in one of the greatest games ever played here at state and brought positive exposure to our school and the North Lawndale community. Next year we hope to have a shot to win it all.”
Morgan Park, which was expected to be the CPS team with the best shot at winning a title this year, was hampered by injuries to three of their starters in Normal. Falling in the semifinals to eventual champion Morton and losing the third place game to Highland 62-51, it was a disappointing end to an otherwise great year for the Mustangs, who like North Lawndale made their first trip ever downstate. Syracuse bound Gabrielle Cooper showed her worth in leading Morgan Park in both games, but she could not do it alone. Leading scorer Déjà Evans tried to play through a tough leg injury but was mostly ineffective.
“We just didn’t play like we have all year,” Morgan Park coach Kenondica Taylor said. “We didn’t rebound at all and while we had spurts where we didn’t play bad defense, we really struggled on offense. This is the state tournament you are playing against the best. You have to be at your best all the time and we just didn’t do that.”
That could also be said for perennial power Young, which fell 47-40 in overtime to Fremd in the semifinals and was blown out in the third place game by Trinity of River Forest. The Lady Dolphins struggled offensively all weekend but had been flirting with disaster before they got to Normal. They had to go to overtime in both the Sectional Final against Proviso East and the Super Sectional against Homewood-Flossmoor.
Kiara Lewis, the Ohio State bound guard for Young, struggled with her shooting in Normal. She finished with only 11 points in the semifinal loss, 13 points below her average. Things did not get any better for Young in the third place game against Trinity. Lewis did score 18 but she shot only 4 of 22 from the field. With team offense being a challenge, the Lady Dolphins lost 63-46 to end their season with a record of 27-7.