Prospect's Kowalczyk twins sparking Knights' success
In all her years playing basketball or coaching, former Prospect all-area center Marie Miller had never been on a team with a pair of sisters.
Until last year as the Knights freshman coach.
And now this year as the Knights varsity coach.
And not just sisters -- twins.
Jessica and Stephanie Kowalczyk play key roles for the Knights (6-2, 2-0), currently the only team without a loss in the Mid-Suburban East.
"Jessica and Stephanie look alike, but they are two wonderful, independent people," said Miller, who also coached twins (Isabella and Angelina Gebala) last year on the freshman team (they are currently on the Knights' sophomore team)."
Miller said the Kowalczyk twins are ideal student/athletes.
"They're phenomenal kids," she said. "They're good students. They are very respected people and athletes at our school. They stand out."
Stephanie shoots righty while Jessica is a southpaw.
"They're mirror twins," Miller said. "Physically they're opposites."
Miller said it's great to see how they support each other and know how to encourage each other.
"They really help send a message to the whole program even if they don't necessarily realize it," she said. "You can see all the other kids are watching their every move and looking up to them. In their eyes they are superstars because they are seniors and leaders. So it has a positive message on so many other levels than just basketball."
On the basketball floor, the two-year starters have each enjoyed double-digit scoring games.
Jessica had a season-high 10 points against Barrington and Elk Grove while Stephanie owns a personal best 10 points against Oswego East.
"Stephanie is more of an assists person and our dribble penetrator finisher," Miller said. "She is taking it in strong, developing confidence and finishing.
"Jess is more efficient in a zone. She is our baseline runner and our outside shooter. But they both have this knack about them on and off the court. They're really fun to coach, great to be around and they're just great to have as a part of our program.
Because they're sisters, they know each other's tendencies and personalities.
"They know how to support each other and they know how to aggravate each other," Miller said. "But they balance it out and at the end of the day, they are always each other's biggest fan which is great to have."
Long-distance addition: The girl coming off the bench for Hersey's girls basketball this season has come a long way to play for the Huskies.
Aya El-Fiky is a native of Egypt, and arrived in the United States as a transfer student.
Hersey hall of fame coach Mary Fendley got her first glimpse of El-Fiky at an open gym back in October.
"I saw her and right away texted Julia (Barthel, assistant coach)," Fendley said. " I said, 'uh, this exchange student is the real deal. She can help us.' "
And that's exactly what the 5-foot-11 sophomore forward has done, twice reaching double figures, including a career-high of 11 points against Mother McAuley.
Not bad coming from a country where athletic teams are not part of the school system.
"It's more like club programs she got involved with," Fendley said. "It's very different from our system here."
The Huskies enjoy learning about El-Fiky's country and vice versa.
"We do Egyptian trivia with her," Fendley said. "She has many questions about our country and we are trying to learn about hers. It's been so much fun."
Teammate Emily Born posed the question of what El-Fiky was looking forward to the most about the holiday season.
"She says 'oh, seeing the snow.' '' Fendley said. "She had never been in snow. There is not much in Africa. So when we had that first dose of snow it was really fun for her and fun for us to witness her excitement."
Fendley is impressed with how El-Fiky has adjusted.
"It's been a lot of information for her to learn," Fendley said. "Some of our kids have been playing together for so long and in the summers.
"It's a pleasure to have her. We're lucky to have such a nice kid and hard worker. And she's a good player to add to our program for one year. Since this is her only season with us, it's like she is a senior, not a sophomore."
Kipps' Hoopsfest: The 29th annual Coach Kipp's Hoopsfest will be held over the Martin Luther King weekend for the 24th straight year at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park.
The Saturday game between Danville Schlarman and Geneva matches the defending Class 1A state champs against the two-time defending Class 4A champs.
The 4 p.m. contest on Saturday between Marist and Mother McAuley will have a special twist.
Marist's Mary Clare Brusek will be the first girl in the event whose mother also played in the tourney.
Brusek's mother, Megan Lucid, starred for Mother McAuley in the first year of the showcase event (1991) at Northwestern University.
Mary Clare wears the same number (20) as her mother's, which was retired at McAuley.
Megan was Illinois' Miss Basketball her senior year and played for DePaul.
Games involving teams from the Northwest suburbs are Chicago Kenwood vs. Maine West (Saturday, Jan. 19 at 1 p.m.), Rolling Meadows vs Mother McAuley (Monday, Jan. 21 at 3 p.m.) and Fremd vs Loyola (Monday, Jan. 21 at 4:30 p.m.).