After dropping its first two games, St. Viator's girls basketball team has put together an impressive seven-game winning streak after Monday night's 49-41 nonconference win at Elk Grove.
Even more impressive is the fact the last four wins have come in a span of five days, including a win over Regina on Sunday at the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference/East Suburban Catholic Conference shootout at Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park.
"It's been quite a stretch," said Lions senior point guard Olivia Solimene, who scored 11 points with 6 rebounds on Monday. "To be honest, our legs are tired. But we kept pushing through and I loved our teamwork, attitude and especially our energy that kept us in all four games."
Solimene sure came out full of energy, starting with a big half-circle drive for a layup.
She then came up with a steal, which later in the possession led to her own 10-foot runner in the lane that made it 4-0 less than 40 seconds into the game.
The Lions (7-2) built the lead to 15-7 midway through the second quarter when senior Myia Clark flipped a nifty pass to Haley Robinson for layup.
The visitors built their biggest lead of the night at 28-15 on one of Natalie Krause's three 3-pointers with 2:20 left in the first half.
But Elk Grove closed the second quarter with a layup from sophomore Megan Murray and layup and 2 free throws from Rachel Kandefer (game-high 16 points) to make it 28-21 at intermission.
"Elk Grove was very feisty," Solimene said. "It was a pretty physical game but we kept it in and just never gave up, and that's all I can ask for. Our bench is really a big help."
Lions coach Jason Raymond went deep to that bench, which helped as the Lions were playing for the third straight day following wins over Conant (Saturday) and Regina (Sunday).
"It's like an NHL hockey schedule or something," Raymond said. "We complimented the girls on this stretch, playing all the games on the road. We have not had a home game yet.
"Putting this streak together is nice, especially since it is ahead of our first conference game (ESCC) on Wednesday at Nazareth. They are a really talented team."
Krause's 3-pointer gave Viator its biggest lead in the second in the second half at 40-28.
But Elk Grove charged back and got to within 42-38 with an 8-0 spurt that included Zoe Blomquist's layup, back-to-back buckets by Kandefer and a bank shot from freshman Olivia Masnica (6 points, including a big steal and layup in the first half) with 3:43 in the game.
St. Viator got 3 free throws from Robinson and 2 from Clark to extend the lead again to 47-38.
Saint Louis recruit Clark (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists) finished with a double-double.
"Honestly I was happy with our second half in terms of acknowledging where Myia Clark was," said EG coach Jen Buxton. "We talked about her being a huge scorer for their team and we were not recognizing that in the first half. We turned it around in the second half.
"I can never fault our kids' effort but I do not think our focus was there, and it showed by the missed shots we had in the lane and by some of our turnovers.
"We have not been averaging that many. That was a goal of ours. But we did not take care of the ball this game like we usually do, and we didn't finish."
Kandefer finished with a game-high 16 points while Murray chipped in 11.
"Rachel has stepped it up a ton this season," Buxton said. "She has done a huge job in terms of rebounding and offensive production. Megan (Murray) never comes off the floor. She does the brunt of our ballhandling and does a phenomenal job with that.
"And Zoe (Blomquist) did a really nice defensive job this game defending Myia Clark, a great offensive player."
Krause finished with 9 points and Robinson added 8.
"Natalie does a great job stretching the floor for us offensively," Raymond said. "She's a junior and it's her first year on the varsity.
"We always knew she could shoot but she has been working real hard on defense in practice, especially off the basketball. Her shooting is a weapon for us. With our slashers, Myia, Olivia and Michaela (Mueller, who hit a 16-footer to start the second half), that really spaces the floor for us."
Both coaches have been pleased with their teams' starts to the season.
"This is first season in my tenure where we gotten off to good start," Raymond said. "I think that is just a product of the experience we have on this team and with the whole program. The last few years they've been learning a new system with new coaches. Now we know who we are.
"The one thing we need to improve on as the season goes on is to not play so much as a roller coaster. I feel like we have some really good minutes and then we have some mental lapses where we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot and let the opponent climb back into the game instead of extending the lead."
Buxton's Grenadiers are 4-4.
"I'm proud of this team," she said. "But we want to keep pushing forward. We have higher expectations each game and the girls know that. I love them to death and we're going to keep pushing to get those higher expectations."