Dressed in full uniform and sporting her familiar headband, Lauren Webb took part in Vernon Hills' pregame warm-up at Antioch on Friday night, jogging effortlessly and seemingly pain-free.
If that wasn't positive news enough for the Cougars, their performance on the court was even more encouraging. Playing a squad that's probably Tim Borries' best in his seven seasons as Sequoits head coach, Vernon Hills led from start to finish in capturing a 58-44 decision.
It was the 31st straight win in North Suburban Prairie play for the two-time defending division champs.
"We worked really hard at practice with the scout team," said junior guard Mia Polisky, who sparked the Cougars coming off the bench. "It paid off in the game."
Vernon Hills improved to 7-0 and 2-0 in the NSC Prairie, while Antioch fell to 6-3 and 1-1.
Sydney Smith scored 11 of her game-high 23 points in the opening quarter for the Cougars, who have continued to win despite the absence of their 6-footer, Webb. The Bowling Green recruit has yet to play in a game this season due to an injury to her right foot.
A recent CAT-scan revealed that the stress fracture in Webb's foot has healed. She's been doing what coach Paul Brettner called "minimal contact activities" at practice.
"Now it's just a matter of getting the inflammation and pain down," Brettner said. "She's been slowly working back into practice. We're hoping (she'll be back) in a couple of weeks."
Three-pointers by Kasey Firnbach, Smith and Polisky helped jump-start Vernon Hills to an 11-0 lead, and Antioch never recovered. The Sequoits trailed 17-6 after one quarter but managed to keep the game close, despite starters Paige Gallimore and Alexis Duehr getting in first-half foul trouble.
Gallimore led the Sequoits with 14 points (two 3s), which was her season low.
Antioch got within 43-40 on a pair of free throws by freshman point guard Ashley Reiser with 5:10 left in the fourth. But Haley Lieberman's 2 foul shots hiked the Vernon Hills lead back to five, before Polisky drove hard to the basket, was fouled and converted the three-point play with 3:35 to go.
A Smith drive made the lead double digits again.
"There's no quit in them," Borries said of his Sequoits, who posted their season-low point total. "As much as we want to run and push the ball, we looked a step slow tonight. We gave up the sideline way too much. That's the game. Paul prepared his girls. He knew what was coming. They got back (on defense). We just forced the issue sometimes."
Antioch had three players foul out, while Gallimore sat out the first 4½ minutes of the fourth quarter with 4 fouls. The Sequoits' ball pressure, both in the full court and half court, impressed Brettner.
"Antioch is just tough," Brettner said. "If they didn't get in that foul trouble, it could have been a little different story."
In what Brettner said was probably her most playing-time of the season, Polisky was the Cougars' only other player in doubles figures. She finished with 11 points, scoring in every quarter.
She has been slowed this season by a condition called Costochondritis, which causes pain in the chest and lungs.
"The first 20 minutes are always hard for me. I'm just out of shape," Polisky said with a smile. "It got better afterward."
Firnbach added 8 points and 8 rebounds for Vernon Hills, while Katherine Koczwara also played well coming off the bench, scoring all 3 of her points down the stretch to help keep Antioch at bay.
"Anything we do positive without Lauren just bolsters all the other kids," Brettner said of Webb, "so that when Lauren comes back we're a full roster that hopefully is pretty deep."
Center Carly McCameron had 13 rebounds and 7 points for Antioch, which also received 7 points apiece from Reiser and her twin Amy.
"It's very difficult because that's the worst game we've played all season," Gallimore said. "Vernon Hills is a really good team. They just outplayed us. They had very good defense. We just weren't ready for it."