Kickel, Naperville North finish against Naperville Central
All eyes were on Naperville North junior Alison Kickel as she approached the free-throw line Friday night with 15.4 seconds left in the game and the Huskies trailing Naperville Central by a point.
"A lot of things going through my mind," she said. "My coaches (Erin Colletti and Molly Murray) looked at me and they were like, just focus on do what you've got to do. So I stepped back, took a breath and I just finished."
Kickel sank both free throws to give the Huskies a 49-48 girls basketball victory against their cross-town rivals and a two-game lead in the DuPage Valley Conference with three games to play.
"As soon as they put Kickel on the line I knew it was a problem because she's a good free-throw shooter," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said.
Actually, Kickel was a problem for the Redhawks all game. She scored a personal-best 15 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Not bad for a kid who transferred from Benet over the summer, then suffered a knee injury that required off-season surgery.
"Now that she's kind of worked herself into the starting lineup, she hasn't looked back," Colletti said. "She's been huge for us in clutch situations with offensive rebounding, finishing down low and great passes. She connects with our girls inside and out so well. Her basketball IQ is great, her intensity at all times. She's an all-around great player. We are so lucky that she came to us."
It was no surprise that the game came down to the final seconds. Naperville Central (18-10, 5-2) had won 10 of its last 11 games before arriving at Naperville North (20-5, 7-0). The teams exchanged the lead 10 times and were tied seven times.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Colletti said of the "nerve-wracking" game.
"It means a lot to me knowing that it means a lot to the girls and knowing that I can help win against Central and beat our cross-town rivals," Kickel said.
The Redhawks never got off a shot in the final seconds, losing the ball when Huskies senior guard Nikki Kwilosz knocked it loose on the dribble and earned a tie-up, giving Naperville North possession. The Huskies ran out the final seconds.
"She just exposed it," Kwilosz said. "I think she was more focused on trying to get to the basket and I just went for it."
Greta Kampschroeder led the Huskies with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Karly Maida hit five of the Redhawks' 11 3-pointers to finish with a team-high 15 points.
"I thought Karly Maida was tremendous," Nussbaum said.
Katlyn Allen scored 13 points, hitting three 3-pointers, and Gabi Melby scored 10.