Talk about being motivated.
If you don't think the Westminster Christian girls basketball team isn't geared up for the upcoming postseason, then you probably don't think a Harbaugh is going to win the Super Bowl today.
When Seton Academy's Brittany Mitchell buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give her team a 45-42 win over Westminster in the 2012 sectional final at Willows Academy, the Warriors immediately started thinking about this season.
And now all the pieces would appear to be in place for Westminster to make another deep run into the postseason, and the Warriors don't mince their words -- they want to play at Redbird Arena in the Class 1A Final Four on Feb. 22.
Top-seeded Westminster Christian will take a 22-4 record into the Class 1A Harvest Christian regional this week. The Northeastern Athletic Conference champs, who won the program's first conference title this season, will take on either Harvest or Cristo Rey St, Martin of Waukegan in Tuesday's 6 p.m. semifinal. Those two schools meet in Monday's 7:30 p.m. play-in game.
If Westminster can win the regional title, the Warriors then get to play the sectional on their home floor.
"The planets are aligned," joked Westminster coach Ken Flickinger. "We get to go next door for the regional and home for the sectional. I like the opportunity but it's still about playing the game and executing every night."
The Warriors, who don't have a senior on the roster, have executed pretty well all season. Led by a trio of juniors who all started last season, Westminster scores 50 points a game and only allows 31. After losing to Somonauk and Serena back-to-back at the Somonauk Thanksgiving tournament, the Warriors' only other losses have come against Class 4A Schaumburg and Class 3A Hampshire. They take a 12-game win streak into the postseason.
"Last year's run to the sectional got the girls focused on a bigger goal," said Flickinger. "They played in the Dundee-Crown summer league and they put in a lot of extra time working on their games. They came to practice in the fall in shape and ready to get to work."
Junior tri-captains McKaila Hays (11.2 ppg), Claire Speweik (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Liz Meschewski (4.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg) have been the steady forces for Westminster all season, with freshman Maddie Versluys (11.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) bursting onto the scene and becoming a huge contributor. Junior Courtney Gnan is the fifth starter and junior Kinsley Donahue (4.4 ppg) adds a spark off the bench.
"We're playing older this year," said Flickinger, whose team averages -- averages -- 18 steals per game. "The juniors are thinking like seniors. They see the floor better and understand what we want to do on defense and they're committed to what we're doing. We've also been fortunate to stay healthy all year."
Meschewski agrees with her coach about the defense.
"Our whole goal was to play defense right off the bat and get leads," she said. "We've done that really well all season. Coach says our offense comes from our tough defense."
"We just need to keep working on our defense and on offense not rush things," Hays says.
Being a cohesive unit is important to the Warriors' success, Spiewek says.
"Our teamwork has been good," she said. "We have to have confidence in ourselves and in our teammates. We have a lot of trust in each other and we know with God's help we can do everything."
For as much as Flickinger knew his team had a lot of talent returning, Versluys has been a key.
"We saw in the summer league that she had a big upside to her but I couldn't have predicted what an impact she's had," the coach said. "I had a good feeling we'd be balanced. We've been a different team than last year. (Graduated) Whitney VandenBos had 47 3-pointers last year. This team is better defensively and we get better opportunities on our shots from better places on the floor."
And now the postseason challenge is at hand.
"I let the team set their own goals and one they set was to get downstate," Flickinger said. "The first goal was to win conference. Winning the conference is hard and we've never done it before. It really showed how the girls are focused on the task at hand. We know how hard we had to work to get to where we were last year, We have to play well, play hard and give ourselves the opportunity to be in that final game. We'll have to play some tough basketball."
"That's been our goal since middle school," Hays said of making it to state. "One game at a time."
Harvest on a roll: Harvest Christian (6-19) enters the regional with a 3-game winning streak and four wins in its last five games. Coach Kelly Friestad's Lions are led by sophomore Kylee Knox (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.8 spg), freshman Rachel Oostdyk (5.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and senior Sarah Kott (4.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
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