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Class 4A notebook

By Matt LeCren

NORMAL – Benet won its second-consecutive Class 4A state championship Saturday night because Nebraska-bound point guard Kathleen Doyle was the best player on the floor, as she is in every game she plays.
 
But she’d be the first to tell you that the Redwings would not have won without often overlooked contributions from players like Kendal Schramek.
 
It was Schramek, a 6-foot junior forward, who helped 6-foot-1 junior center Katie Jaseckas battle Fremd’s bigger, more experienced front line in the Redwings’ 42-39 win over the Vikings (30-3), the top-ranked team in the Associated Press’ final regular season poll.
 
“She’s smaller than a lot of the girls that she’s guarding, but it’s all about heart and hustle for her,” Doyle said of Schramek. “She’s willing to face down anybody in the game, and she did that for us.”
 
Indeed, Schramek had her hands full defending Fremd senior Bryana Hopkins, the powerful 6-foot-2 senior who is headed to Northwestern. Schramek held Hopkins to four points in the first half as Benet (32-3) built a 21-13, but the dynamic changed dramatically when Hopkins scored on a three-point play and drew Schramek’s third foul early in the third quarter.
 
Hopkins feasted with Schramek on the bench for the rest of the third quarter, scoring 10 points to give the Vikings a 32-30 lead.
 
“I was pretty antsy (on the bench),” Schramek said. “I was like, ‘Come on, this is not the game to (foul out),’ but I knew that I just had to stay composed and cheer my team on and when I got back in the game just play smart and not foul again.”
 
Schramek came in to start the fourth quarter, and Hopkins suddenly went quiet. Schramek did pick up her fourth foul at the 3:42 mark with the game tied at 35-35, and Hopkins scored on a drive on the next possession to put Fremd ahead.
 
But Schramek stayed in and helped shut out Hopkins the rest of the way.
 
“I just mentally prepared myself and told myself that she’s not going to get by me,” Schramek said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to stop her. I wanted to win so bad, and I was willing to do whatever it took.”
 
Doyle was pleased with that effort.
 
“We just focused in on (Hopkins) more,” Doyle said. “She was getting buckets, and we needed to get stops. So I think it was just mental focus mainly.”
 
Mental focus has come in handy for Schramek, who dealt with injuries last season and saw limited action during Benet’s first championship run, save for a crucial stretch during a 77-71 semifinal win over Homewood-Flossmoor. She spent much of the season watching her older sister, Emily, now playing for Northern Michigan, light up the scoreboard.
 
“(Winning this year) is a different feeling,” Schramek said. “It’s a feeling like I kind of can help the team a little bit.
 
“Last year I supported on the bench, and this year I felt like I supported on the court. It feels, not better, but awesome.”
 
Happy (last) Valentine’s Day
 
Sami Valentine and her father, Dick, were closer to each other than any of the other players and parents.
 
Literally closer.
 
Dick Valentine was Benet’s official scorekeeper this year and in that capacity watched all of his daughter’s road games from the Redwings’ bench.
 
Sami Valentine, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, is the last of Dick’s three daughters to play for Benet after sisters Nicole and Taylor.
 
“It was amazing for me just because he’s been my coach throughout my whole basketball career. So having him by my side was always nice to catch a quick glance at him and get some support,” Sami said. “I always knew that he was there, and he would call out some things.
 
“It was criticism, but it was things that he was looking out for me. He’s always my biggest fan, and I’m so lucky to have him on the bench this year, especially my senior year. I was really grateful for that.”
 
Though never a star, Sami earned a starting spot for the first time this season and made a name for herself as a defensive specialist. She never scored much but was a key cog on a team that improved its defense from last year.
 
“I try to keep the team up with my defense, and I try to give anything I can to pull out a win,” she said.
 
Ironically, it was Valentine who scored Benet’s first points in the 42-39 title game win over Fremd. It was a 3-pointer from the left wing that proved to be the Redwings’ only points of the first quarter, which ended with Benet behind 6-3.
 
Valentine missed two other threes and had one offensive rebound in the final game of her playing career. She will not play in college.
 
“I was not expecting (to hit that three),” Valentine said. “The whole experience was unbelievable.
 
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. I’m so lucky to be able to share another championship with them, especially my senior year. I couldn’t have asked for it to end any better and I’m so lucky.”
 
Her father felt similarly.
 
“To see her finish her career like that was amazing,” Dick said. “It was just a dream come true.
 
“We were hoping to get down there and to be a part of it and have the best seat in the house, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I couldn’t write a book better on it.”
 
Dick Valentine coached her daughter’s travel team, the Illinois Rockets, from when Sami was in fifth grade until about two years ago. That team featured an all-star cast of Naperville talent, including Benet’s Megan Will and Elise Stout, Naperville North’s Laurel Pereira, Cece Pope and Sophia Fumagalli and Naperville Central’s Hannah Swarm and Katie McBain.
 
“That was a great group of girls, and I was lucky to share my travel experience with them,” Sami Valentine said. “It was awesome.”
 
Senior moment
 
Benet coach Joe Kilbride has won state titles in each of his first two seasons since taking over from the legendary Peter Paul and has a 66-6 record.
 
He said both championship teams had great senior leadership. Doyle’s captaincy is well-known and Elise Stout’s rise from role player to primary shooter and all-around dervish was another key reason why the Redwings stayed on top, but reserves Megan Will, Sydney Stephens and Maddie Bozych, while not seeing a lot of playing time, contributed in practice.
 
“Your seniors make or break the whole culture of the team,” Kilbride said. “I’m very lucky to have five great seniors this year.”
 
Bozych suffered a knee injury in November but returned in January, while Will and Stephens showcased some solid shooting skills whenever they got the chance. Will scored a career-high 10 points in a win over St. Viator that clinched Benet’s first East Suburban Catholic Conference title since 1998.
 
Stephens was emotional leader of the bench mob.
 
“The kids enjoy Sydney,” Kilbride said. “She’s kind of our energizer in practice, and she’s our team hair braider. She’s a really good shooter when she gets in games.”
 
Bozych was the only one of the trio to see action in the title game, playing less than a minute and missing her only shot. All three played one minute in Friday’s 68-51 semifinal win over Trinity.
 
“So many people stepped up this year it was amazing,” junior center Katie Jaseckas said. “I just could see it in practice every day. They increased the pressure on us and they made us so much better that it really helps.
 
“Everyone on our practice squad picked it up, especially in the playoffs. You could see that we could (win the state title).”
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