If she's brave enough to throw her body in front of hard-struck soccer balls, it's no wonder Grayslake Central junior Rachel Effa would stand in front of a charging Brittney Thibeaux.
Thibeaux stands 6 feet. And is athletic.
Effa is listed at 5-7. And has a bad knee.
And yet late in Wednesday night's Fox Valley Conference Fox Division showdown against visiting Grayslake North, Effa stepped in front Thibeaux. Effa, who had drawn a charge earlier in the game, was a tad late.
Thibeaux scored, drew the foul, and when a frustrated Effa softly tossed the ball from a sitting position, the referee called a technical foul. Kendall Detweiler hit both free throws to complete a 5-point sequence with 40.5 seconds left, and Grayslake North escaped with a 34-31 win.
"She's fearless," Rams coach Steve Ikenn said of Effa, the varsity soccer keeper. "You got to give that kid credit."
In completing a season sweep of its crosstown rival, Grayslake North improved to 17-8 and 9-1 in the FVC Fox. Grayslake Central fell to 16-9 and 8-2 in the division. Grayslake North will successfully defend its FVC Fox championship by beating Woodstock (Friday) and Woodstock North (next Tuesday).
"Those are important ones," said Detweiler, taking neither opponent lightly.
Despite never trailing and holding the Rams to just 6 points in the opening half, Grayslake North could never pull away.
Effa's three-point play, after a steal by Theresa Curtis, pulled Grayslake Central within 27-26 with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter. But the Rams got no closer, as a traveling violation preceded Thibeaux's 3-point play.
Effa scored all 6 of her points in the fourth. She was playing just her seventh game of the season after tearing her left ACL in summer-league basketball and undergoing surgery.
"She's playing great," Ikenn said. "I am so proud of that kid. She shows no fear. None at all. A kid coming back from an ACL tear and she's already taken 2-3 charges -- and probably could have gotten a few more if the calls go a different way, and not necessarily this game."
Morgan Dahlstrom posted huge numbers again for Grayslake Central, finishing with game bests of 14 points and 18 rebounds, but the Rams shot 11 of 44 (25 percent) from the floor. Grayslake North struggled even worse (17 percent on 9-of-53 shooting).
"Defensively, I was really excited about the way we played," Knights coach Nate Flannery said. "We put in some new stuff recently, came out and the kids got after it."
Detweiler scored a team-high 13 points, but even she and fellow senior star Thibeaux (9 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) struggled mightily shooting the ball.
"I thought our defense was really good," Detweiler said. "I thought it was the best it's been in a while. I thought they weren't getting the shots they necessarily wanted. We were getting some shots we wanted. They just weren't falling tonight."
It was a 4-4 game after one quarter, as the two teams shot a combined 4 of 31, and Grayslake North was up 13-6 at halftime.
"We said, 'We didn't execute our offense worth anything in the first half and we're down seven. So shake it off and let's go execute. Let's not turn the ball over as much and we'll be fine,' " Ikenn said. "And we were."
The offense picked up slightly in the third quarter, as Grayslake North's Maggie Fish used aggressive drives to score 6 of her 8 points, while Grayslake Central finally found a way to get Dahlstrom the ball in the low post. Dahlstrom scored 8 points in the third, but the Rams trailed 23-15 heading into the fourth.
Grayslake North was up 27-20 midway through the fourth when Grayslake Central's Carson Sparkman bounced in a 3-pointer with 2:19 left. Detweiler's 6-of-9 foul shooting in the quarter allowed the visitors to secure their fifth win in a row. The Knights' Samantha Villwock hustled for 12 rebounds. She, Fish and Sidney Lovitsch each had 4 steals.
"Give the kids credit for finding a way to get it done when the ball won't go in," Flannery said. "It was just one of those nights. Sometimes in big games, it's whoever makes the least amount of mistakes that finds a way to win."
Ikenn wasn't complaining either.
"I told them I was very proud of them," he said of his players. "I thought they played hard. I thought they played their butts off. I thought they did everything they needed to do, and it's a shame a couple of calls went the way they did."