Elk Grove coach Kathie Swanson was mighty impressed with how well the Wheaton North starters played as a team Monday afternoon, and she was equally impressed with how the Falcons' reserves played.
Four of Wheaton North's starters scored in double figures in the Falcons' 70-49 defeat of the Grenadiers in opening round play of the Bill Neibch Holiday Classic at Wheaton North, but it was the defensive effort of the team that played the biggest role in the game's outcome. And it wasn't just the starters who excelled on defense.
"They were very energetic and very aggressive from the start, and they're long and they anticipate very well," Swanson said after her Elk Grove squad committed 14 turnovers in the first half. "I give them credit because all of their kids are into the game. They come in and they know what their duty is and they sub in and out. We don't quite have the same luxury."
What the Grenadiers do have is a 6-foot-4 inside threat in Amber Lindfors and a talented swing player in Melissa Solorio, but Wheaton North's superb defensive effort kept those two somewhat at bay while the hosts managed to break out for a number of layups following turnovers.
"We knew going into the game they had the taller post and that No. 35 (Solorio) was a good player and that they had other good players," said Wheaton North's Emmy Gryna, who scored 13 points and had 3 steals. "We just wanted to shut them down early and kind of take over and do what we do. Our defense becomes our offense, and that's how we really emphasize going out and getting steals and working hard on defense."
Lindfors had 7 quick points for Elk Grove (3-8), but she was plagued early by foul trouble, and the Falcons' 6-1 Chrissy Baird helped limit her to 6 field goals and 16 points. Baird, meanwhile, scored a team-high 17 points, and joined Gryna, Emily Barry and Kelly Thornton in giving Wheaton North four players in double figures.
"We've tried to preach since the first day of practice that defense wins championships," said Falcons coach Dave Eaton, whose team scored 28 points off turnovers. "The kids did a great job of coming up, buying into the defense, and everyone played well defensively. It's been a total commitment as a team. We've got kids coming off to the bench who have bought into doing whatever it takes to help the team win."
The Falcons (7-5) led 39-27 at the half and 57-40 after three quarters and received strong efforts and extended minutes from a number of reserves including Maggie Will, Abby Tiesman and Bri Lyons. With the win Wheaton North advanced to Thursday's quarterfinal action against the winner of No. 2-seeded Downers Grove North and Glenbard North.
Solorio finished with a trio of 3s and 17 points for Elk Grove, which plays Thursday morning against the loser of the Downers Grove North-Glenbard North contest.
In morning action Glenbrook South defeated No. 3-seeded Willowbrook 62-41. Molly Krawczykowski paced the Warriors with 11 points. No. 6 Hinsdale Central blasted Elgin 70-17 behind 17 points from Gabrielle Rush.