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Defending 4A champ Benet
tops St. Ignatius in season-opener

Redwings overcome slow start to begin title defense

 
By Matt Le Cren
 
LISLE – Benet did a great job of sharing the ball during the first two minutes of Tuesday night’s season opener against St. Ignatius.
 
Four different players attempted three-pointers.
 
All of them missed.
 
The defending state champions were a little too psyched up to play, misfiring on their first seven shots.
 
But it didn’t matter. Star point guard Kathleen Doyle finally broke the ice on a driving layup, triggering an opening 10-0 run as the Redwings rolled to a 58-32 victory.
 
“The first game, you’ve been practicing against the same people for about two weeks and it’s nice to get out of that funk and play against new competition, fresh blood I guess,” Doyle said. “Once your adrenaline gets going, it’s hard to contain it.”
 
The Redwings were understandably champing at the bit to begin the season.
 
In the eight months and 10 days since Benet defeated Fremd 61-39 to win the first state title in program history, the players and coaches have received their championship rings, raised a picture banner on the wall of their gym and said goodbye to graduated starters Emily Eshoo and Emily Schramek, who are now playing at Bradley and Northern Michigan, respectively.
 
The remaining girls, along with several newcomers, couldn’t wait to play Tuesday.
 
“The girls were so excited to play,” Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. “They were just jumping out of their skins.
 
“They got two weeks of playing against each other, and they’re tired of it. It happens every year, the first game is sloppy. Some of it is first-game jitters and we told them that’s over with, but part of it is we’ve got to develop a better feel.”
 
While the Redwings shot poorly in the first quarter, making 8-of-22 attempts, they overcame it by crashing the offensive boards and forcing 11 turnovers with their full-court press.
 
Benet led 16-2 late in the quarter as Doyle had five points, three assists and two steals, and Kendal Schramek tallied four points.
 
“Early on we got a ton of shots,” Kilbride said. “Our field goal percentage had to be horrible, but our offensive rebounding had to be very, very good.
 
“We’ve got kids that are getting used to playing with each other, so it will come. It’s a good thing the kids are enthusiastic. Now we can get down to playing basketball.”
 
Season openers rarely find teams in top form and that was the case for both teams in this one. They combined to shoot 9-for-30 from the free-throw line and 37-for-105 from the floor.
 
“The fans were demanding their money back after the first three minutes,” St. Ignatius coach Cara Doyle quipped. “We missed our first 20, that was the problem. After practicing against each other, you want to get a game in to figure out what you need to work on, so we have a lot to work on.”
 
St. Ignatius actually missed only its first four shots but it seemed like more because of all the turnovers. The Wolfpack went scoreless until Campbell Montgomery made an inside basket with 2:18 left in the first quarter.
 
While the Redwings struggled from long-distance, they excelled in transition with steals and layups fueling a 13-0 surge to open the second quarter. Benet enjoyed a 36-11 halftime lead after Ali Krueger’s putback just before the horn.
 
“We were so excited just for our first game,” said Benet senior guard Elise Stout, who scored nine of her game-high 11 points in the first half. “Obviously the adrenaline is high.
 
“Coming off the state championship, I think we recognize that every team is going to give us their best shot, so we’re just going to use their energy combined with ours to try to get things done and win games.”
 
Stout added six rebounds and four steals to a solid all-around effort, while Kathleen Doyle finished with 10 points, six boards, five assists and three steals. Benet’s other returning starter, junior center Katie Jaseckas, chipped in four points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
 
“I don’t think we were too perfect but that’s expected as our first game playing together as a team,” Stout said. 
“But I definitely think we’re going to learn from this game and just pull it together.”
 
St. Ignatius tried to rally coming out of intermission, scoring the first six points as Hayley Cange contributed back-to-back inside baskets and freshman Molly Graham added a jumper. But Benet answered with a pair of Stout free throws, a Doyle layup and later two three-pointers from reserve Megan Will.
 
Will scored eight points off the bench, as did 6-foot-1 freshman Lauren Stack, who sank 4-of-6 shots to go with seven rebounds and three steals in a memorable high school debut.
 
“She’s a surprisingly good athlete, she runs the floor well, and you can’t teach tall,” Kilbride said of Stack. “Not only is she tall; she uses her length well.
 
“I think she’s going to help us. Her skill set fits us. She’s got perimeter skills, and we like our bigs to be able to do that.”
 
In fact, Stack was a guard until this year and she has a tremendous family pedigree. Nearly a dozen members of her extended family have played collegiately, among them her cousins Eshoo and Frank Kaminsky and aunt Krista Bonebrake, all former Benet stars.
 
“I was kind of nervous at first because it’s such a big legacy to live up to,” Stack said. “I hope I’m going to be able to live up to it.
 
“(Emily) just told me to play my game and not care about anything else, just play how I know how to play.”
 
Stack learned a lot from watching Eshoo play and tries to emulate her.
 
“I learned how to be aggressive like her,” Stack said. “She can drive to the hole like I don’t know how anybody else can, so I just learned how to be really aggressive from her.”
 
That’s not the only way Stack emulates Eshoo; she’s also articulate and insightful while dealing with the media.
 
“I thought we pressured the ball well, and I thought we were aggressive and pushed stuff,” Stack noted. “Obviously, we made mistakes just because of first-day jitters but I think later in the season we’ll get over that and we’ll play like we know how to play.”
 
Kathleen Doyle agreed.
 
“A win is a win, so you can’t complain,” the Nebraska signee said. “It was rocky but I feel like our first game is always kind of like that. We’ll move smooth things over in practice, and hopefully it will go a lot smoother on Friday (against Metea Valley).”
 
The start of Benet’s title defense also marked the end of an interesting era. Kathleen Doyle is Cara Doyle’s niece and this was the last time they will face each other.
 
Benet and St. Ignatius have played each other in the last four season openers and Benet has won all four games.
 
“It’s always fun,” Kathleen Doyle said. “She started (coaching at St. Ignatius) my freshman year so all four years that I’ve been a varsity player, she’s been coaching against me for the first game.
 
“It’s been a fun little rivalry we’ve got going on. We have that connection where we talk about basketball a lot so it’s always fun when you get to test it on the court.”
 
The Wolfpack will not lack for tests this winter. St. Ignatius plays in the GCAC Red Division, which is arguably the toughest conference in the Chicago area.
 
The expanded league, which already included Trinity, Mother McAuley and Loyola, welcomes Montini, Fenwick and Providence, meaning St. Ignatius is the most inexperienced squad of the bunch.
 
“Every game is going to be a big battle but I think that’s where we want to be,” Cara Doyle said. “We want to be playing the best teams and opening against Benet is one way to do that.”
 
That means the Wolfpack will take their share of lumps, but in the long run it will help players like Cange, Montgomery, Gannon and Jennifer Fialkowski, who paced the team with six points apiece against Benet.
 
“We’re young, and we don’t have a ton of experience,” Cara Doyle said. “(The tough schedule) will help us in the postseason.” 
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule