Dan Murray watched Marian Catholic edge Rolling Meadows for the Class 4A state girls basketball championship on television from his home last March.
When the two teams met Monday night, he had a much closer seat to the action.
He was on the Spartans bench calling the shots.
And Marian Catholic made plenty of them for their first-year coach.
Led by senior Ashton Millender's career-tying 29 points, No. 6-ranked Marian Catholic ran past No. 2 Rolling Meadows 75-59 in a showcase game of the 24th annual McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook High School in snowy Villa Park.
"I thought Ashton played phenomenally," said Murray, who was the head coach of the Lisle High School girls basketball program the past three seasons. "She was defending Alexis Glasgow (11 points) most of the time. They are two great players. I thought Ashton had a great game on both ends of the floor."
With her future DePaul coach Doug Bruno looking on, Millender scored 17 points in the first half and Marian led 38-32 at intermission.
The Spartans (15-4) built the lead to as high as 16 points (55-39) before Meadows (18-3) made a comeback sparked by senior Jackie Kemph and got to within 59-52 with 5:04 left.
But the Spartans closed it out strong, remembering back to last season.
"I wouldn't say this was easier than winning last year (state title game), " Millender said. "I thought we played better defense this game, but we didn't finish strong against them last year. We knew we had to stay strong to the end."
Kemph finished with 20 points and 5 assists.
"Obviously the Kemph girl did a great job," Murray said. "Her ability to handle the ball against pressure is outstanding. With the type of pressure we put on, for her to consistently break through it and finish with both hands, she is a very fine player."
Meadows senior Jenny Vliet scored 13 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.
Like Millender, Kemph (St. Louis), Vliet (St. Louis) and Glasgow (Northwestern) were also performing before their future coaches (Lisa Stone of St. Louis and Joe McKeown of Northwestern).
"That was a tough loss," said Vliet, who scored 9 points in the second quarter, including the final two layups which made it a 6-point game at the break. "We just need to slow down our offense and pick it up on defense. We have a lot to work on in practice. Hopefully, by the state playoffs, we'll have it down."
Next up for the Mustangs is a visit to Buffalo Grove on Friday.
"We need to start playing our conference games like we do in these games against Marian Catholic, Whitney Young and Montini," Vliet added. "Then that will translate to all our games."
This game was a chance for the Spartans to make a statement, according to Millender.
"It means a lot to win this one," said the 5-foot 11 senior, who also scored 29 points in the state semifinal last year against Whitney Young. "We wanted to make a statement to everyone that playing Marian Catholic is not easy."
Things seems to be getting easier for the Spartans as the season goes on.
"I think we've been playing much better as a of late," Murray said. "All five girls are starting to understand what we need to do each possession.
"We didn't even talk about last year's game. This is a new season. Easy year is a separate entity. We just talk about improving each day. Obviously it's a big win to beat a team of their caliber. We'll enjoy it tonight but in reality we didn't win anything here. But the girls should be proud."
Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky felt his team had a lot of chances to stay in the game.
"But some of our transition defense, rebounding and decision-making was not there. They beat us in a lot of aspects of the game."
Meadows senior Ashley Montanez added 8 points with 6 rebounds.
The Mustangs, who fell behind 5-0, enjoyed their last lead at 14-11 when Vliet scored on a fastbreak layup, getting the pass from Kemph.
"I felt like we were always fighting back," Kirkorsky said. "We were in a position where we had to do some different things that we aren't used to, and they exploited us.
"They are not as big as last season but they shoot really well and I thought we had a hard time matching up in certain spots."