By: Luke Drase
The Maine West Warriors are back on top of the basketball world.
After a 31 year absence, the girls basketball state championship trophy will take back residence in Des Plains after the Warriors capped off a perfect 35-0 season with a 58-46 win in the title game over Mother McAuley.
“It’s a special place,” summed up Maine West athletic director Jared Kirshner. “It’s a special place, with special fans, and special people.”
“It’s so crazy,” added Maine West senior Vanessa Reyes. “I’m proud of our team, the coaches, the fans, the parents, because without them we wouldn’t have made it this far and it feels so good to say we’re state champions today.”
Community is so often a word so often tossed around without really giving any thought to the meaning. But if there was one thing this weekend displayed, it was how tight-knit the Maine West community actually is.
From the students, to the players, and all the way to the administration there is so much pride that comes with being a Maine West Warrior, it rubs off on even the casual fan.
This wasn’t a one year flash in the pan. This championship was years in the making starting with an extremely young, single digit win just five years ago, to the champions they are today.
“It doesn’t feel real right now, I know everybody probably says that,” said Rachel Kent. “But to just think we started the season with a whole different team we didn’t know what to do and to win a state title feels amazing.”
Leading the way for Maine West in the final as always was four year starter Rachel Kent. Kent finished her illustrious career as Maine West’s second all time leading scorer and capped off her career with a 19 point, six rebound performance.
Under the brightest lights, Kent lived up to her billing as the best two way player in the state, setting a standard for all future Warriors to emulate.
“Rachel Kent is the epitome of Maine West girls basketball from the time it has become the dynasty it has until now,” said coach deMarigny. “She is Maine West girls basketball. Heart, soul, hustle. Just the unrelenting will to win.”
“I’m not going to lie, there were a lot of nerves going into this kind of game,” added Kent. “But when we got into halftime we said we just had to keep attacking and that’s what we did.”
While the box score shows a double-digit win, it did not reflect how close the game truly was.
Mother McAuley shot the lights out through the first two and a half quarters of the contest, shooting over the Maine West zone and keeping it a one or two possession game throughout.
A change in tactics, moving out of the zone into man defense was the difference maker for the Warriors, who held Mother McAuley to just 1-13 from behind the arc for the last 10 minutes of the game.
“Zone was a poor coaching choice, by somebody on the bench,” joked deMarigny. “Our mentality was if we’re going down, we’re not going down easy. We’re going to get in your face and if you’re going to beat us, you’re going to have to beat us straight up.”
Angela Dugalic also had a great championship game, finishing with a 16 point, 11 rebound double-double even after picking up two early fouls.
After a pivotal block from Dugalic on a closeout, Mother McAuley were never quite able to get back in rhythm, while Maine West extended their lead to double digits and never looked back.
“As a freshman I wasn’t very confident, I just thought I was another 6’4″ girl chucking the ball at the basket,” said Dugalic. “But my teammates built up my confidence and I owe a lot to them. I’m just so happy I ended the season with this team and Rachel. She’s the best player I’ve ever played with and I love her to death.”
When everything was all said and done, all of the Warriors players and coaching staff were at a loss for words, and without any games to look forward to.
It was a strange feeling to be living in the moment for a change.
“You know, I don’t know how I feel yet,” said deMarigny. “It kind of feels like we just won another game on a little bit bigger stage and we’re like okay what’s the next one. It never feels like it’s over, what’s next? There’s no more scouting reports, I don’t have to do anything I’ve done over the past four months.”
Long days in the gym, hours in the film room, and years of playing the game they loved with the people they’ve grown closest to all went into this state title.
Maine West will always be a community bigger than one person, one team, and even one graduating class.
This years seniors noted the important contributions of Allison Pearson, Alisa Fallon, Cat Johnson, and Jessica Reidl who despite coming up just short last year, paved the way for the turnaround and the success of the girls basketball program.
“They were amazing players and we looked up to them and the way that they played,” said Reyes. “Because of them we played with a certain mentality that reflects how we are today and we are passing the baton forward.”
And behind it all, is the lasting memory of Derril Kipp who made this program so particularly special.
Through the highs and lows of the past 30 years, nobody has forgotten the impact that the late Coach Kipp had on shaping the program, and bringing a winning tradition to a school that deserved it.
“Being the first coach to win a title besides Derril is just crazy,” said deMarigny. “I am so thankful and to be the one who came along at this time, I was just blessed to be with a group of girls such as this.”
Maine West truly is a special place. It’s difficult to encapsulate the feeling with words, but even as an outsider there is an infectious energy that gravitates everyone towards the program.
To every Warrior student, teacher, parent, coach, administrator and alum, I congratulate you on enduring this incredible journey and thank you for making Maine West such an incredible place to be around.
Perfection is rare, and there is no community more deserving.
Enjoy your moment.