Fallon, Kent give Maine West elite leadership tandem
Maine West is an Elite Eight team for the second straight season.
And two elite players from the Warriors' state ranked team have been selected as honorary captains of the 2017-18 Daily Herald Cook County all-area girls basketball team.
Army recruit and senior Alisa Fallon and Division I prospect Rachel Kent, a junior, earned the honor after helping lead the Warriors to today's eighth trip to the state finals in program history.
"Oh my goodness, with their leadership and physical ability, Alisa and Rachel are just amazing kids," said Maine West second-year coach Kim de Marigny.
Fallon transferred to Maine West after playing at Trinity for two seasons.
"Alisa fit in immediately and all the girls just followed her lead," de Marigny said. "And when she joined someone who works as diligently as Rachel does, everyone else just caught fire. They all just decided that is the way you're supposed to play this game.
"The two of them are just amazing. Not that the other girls are not, because they are. But there is something special about Alisa and Rachel. They are both phenomenal athletes. And they're going to be very active at that next level and successful wherever they go."
Alisa Fallon: Not too many girls can say they've played in the state finals two times in three seasons for two different schools.
But Fallon is doing exactly that.
She was a sophomore guard from Des Plaines on Trinity's third-place team in 2016 before transferring to Maine West as a junior.
Fallon fit right in with her new teammates, many of whom she already knew.
"I've played park district with Catherine (Johnson, all-area guard) and Allison (Pearson, all-area guard) since middle school," Fallon said. "So rekindling that chemistry we made in grade school was pretty easy. And I remember playing against Rachel (Kent) in middle school."
While playing from fifth to eighth grade at Our Lady of Destiny, Fallon's teams were unbeaten every season except the last, when they lost in their final game of the season.
"We didn't lose a regular-season game," Fallon said. ''It was a small gym with tile floor and the beams were so low my jump shot often hit the ceiling."
Fallon has ties to another all-area honorary captain from Maine West, Nancy Kennelly Olson, who led the 1988 team to an undefeated state championship in 1988.
Fallon played volleyball and basketball at Destiny with Olson's daughter, Reilly.
"Mrs. Olson even coached me one year in park district basketball," Fallon said.
Fallon's teams have all been winners from middle school to high school.
"I love to win," said Fallon, the 2014 NFL Punt, Pass & Kick champion for girls ages 14/15 at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. "And above all I wanted to bring a winning attitude here to Maine West.
"Last year we got so close (with a loss to eventual state champion Geneva in the supersectional). I think my teammates really bought into a state championship being a realistic goal for us. So here we are, and it's more realistic than ever."
Playing basketball was always a realistic goal for Fallon, despite her participation in many other sports.
She credits her mother Shelley for her love of basketball. Shelley, a Maine East graduate, played volleyball for one year at Division III Tarkio College in Missouri.
Shelley's brother Scott Giovannelli, the father of Alisa's three cousins who all attended West Point, played football at Tarkio.
"I played almost every sport but it seemed my mom was never able to get a basketball out of my hands," Fallon said.
And it will stay in her hands through college where she plans to take classes that will help in the business world.
Last year, Fallon became the first athlete in Maine West history to be named all-state in two sports after she placed fifth in the state discus finals.
"I am very focused on my team this week," she said. "After that, I'll get started working for my career at Army."
For now she is working on guiding the Warriors in their first downstate appearance since 1993.
"Alisa is a very tough individual, mentally and physically," de Marigny said. "She knows the game as well as anyone I've been around. She can score, rebound, anything. You name it, she can do it."
Rachel Kent: From the start, Kent was always willing to do whatever she could to assist the team.
When point guard Pearson was injured to start the 2015-16 season, late hall of fame coach Derril Kipp chose Kent to play point guard.
Kent remembers it like yesterday.
"First of all, I didn't know at all I'd be playing point guard, which was really scary," she said. "We started out slowly but came back and got the win when Monica (Liwag) hit the last shot from the left side. It was really exciting for the first game of my career."
And it's been exciting ever since.
Kipp's confidence in Kent that very first game paved the way for her to become a 1,000-point scorer halfway through her junior campaign.
"Derril had his eye on Rachel when she was in middle school (Algonquin, in Des Plaines)," said de Marigny, who was Kipp's assistant for six years before taking over last season. "And she played with his Illinois Hustle team (AAU). I asked Derril several times if Rachel could play for the high school team while she was in middle school. But he would laugh and say 'no, no, no.' Derril was the one who got Rachel's career going."
Kent had her mind set on a career at Maine West well before she arrived on campus.
"I used to come to all the Maine West games," Rachel said. "I loved watching Brittany Collins play.
"I remember I was playing with Catherine Johnson and Allison (Pearson) in park district and when I found out they were playing travel basketball, I wanted to start playing with Hustle. That's where I started working with Mr. Kipp."
Kipp's advice would prove invaluable, as it had for so any players over the years.
"He was really influential to me in playing basketball and everything," Kent said. "The biggest thing I learned from him was to always keep a positive outlook.
"I know a lot of people get down on themselves when the game is not going well. But no matter what, you can always get it back on the next play. You can make it up on offense or defense, and have an impact on the game."
"Rachel is the best defender we have," de Marigny said. "She is a silent leader, leading more by action than words. I would like to get more words from her, but we'll take action over words."
Kent took the words of Kipp to heart.
"He always told me to take the open shot," Rachel recalled. "I started off and couldn't hit 3-pointers at all. He kept encouraging me to shoot. He always told me to attack the basket and not be afraid of anyone. That was great advice because when I was in sixth grade I was playing with older kids. Sometimes you get intimidated, so it really helped me to be more aggressive with my game."
Kent has now scored nearly 1,200 points as one of the all-time leading scorers in the tradition-rich program.
"She's an all-around great kid, great person," de Marigny said. "We try to make her a little meaner sometimes. She is a nice person who plays the game the right way -- super hard and fair. God gave her an amazing physicality."
When you combine that with her work ethic and passion for the game, it's not hard to realize why her game is among the best in the state.
"I love watching high school and college basketball," Kent said. "I love any basketball in general. I think when you watch other people play, it can improve your game. You see stuff you've never seen before and try to add it to your game."
When she is playing the game at the next level, Kent plans to study nursing.
"My grandmother (Dorothy) is a nurse and I always wanted to do what she did," Rachel said.
For now, Kent wants to keep winning for her mentor.
"These past few years have really been for Mr. Kipp," she said. "I'm really glad we've been playing well and we're doing it all for him. I think he is just watching over us and helping the team get to where we are now."