Christian Liberty wins regional championship
To extend their lengthy winning streak, Christian Liberty's girls basketball players knew they'd have to out-hustle Ida Crown.
"Our coach (Steve Rowland) told us we were going to be playing a team just like ourselves," said Chargers sophomore guard Melissa Castro. "So we had to push the ball. That team was really fast so I ran the floor as fast as I could."
The Chargers (28-3) stayed in the fast lane with their 27th straight win, most by any sports team since Christian Liberty began competing as an IHSA member in 2009.
The top-seeded Chargers outran No. 4 Ida Crown of Skokie for a 49-29 triumph in their own Class 1A Christian Liberty regional championship game Thursday night in Arlington Heights.
Christian Liberty will face No. 3 Richards at 6 p.m. in the semifinals of the Chicago Collins Academy sectional on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
"It's going to be fun, a great experience," Rowland said of the Chargers' first sectional appearance since his 2014 team and his final one before he returned to coach again last year.
"When these girls say they're ready to keep fighting, they mean it. They're not ready to give up. They want to continue. I'm just excited to be a part of this."
The Chargers took control 11-3 after one quarter, getting points from four different players.
Castro (9 points) swept in for a left-handed layup with 1:08 left in the first quarter for a 9-3 lead.
Five seconds later classmate Audrey Law was fouled and the Arlington Heights native converted 2 free throws to make it 11-3.
Sophomore guard Julia Wolke of Des Plaines, who led all scorers with 14 points, made a steal to start the second quarter and then assisted on Law's layup to make it 13-3, giving CLA its biggest lead of the first half.
"The last thing we wanted to do is dig ourselves a whole right away," said Aces coach and former Loyola Academy, University of Minnesota and Minnesota Lynx standout Brittany McCoy Peters. "Then we feel like we're playing catch up and that's how we felt tonight.
"But they're (CLA) a great team. They exposed a lot of our weaknesses. Their defense gave us a hard time. They also hit their free throws and got offensive rebounds, things we didn't' do."
Wolke led CLA with 14 points while Law added 12.
Junior Megan Ng ran the offense and scored 6 points while sophomore Hannah Mindak and classmate Dayna Mateo each chipped in 4 points.
"There is a reason they were the No. 1 seed in the regional," Peters added. "We knew they were going to be a super scrappy team having scouted them and watching film. They put their heads down and look to score. And their bigs (Mindak and Law) did a really good job."
Wolke's sister Isabella was a guard on the Chargers' last and only team to get the job done in a regional in 2014.
"That's crazy," Julia Wolke said. "I vaguely remember it. It feels really good to win another regional for Christian Liberty. It's very exciting."
"We just really came out and knew what wanted to do," Ng added. "We just wanted to run with the basketball and give it our all."
Rowland loved the effort.
"The girls played very well," he said. "Ida Crown (18-7) is a scrappy team and this is the first time all season we played a team our size. They're very well coached and they get after it.
"I'm really happy with how Julia played. Megan is always so solid. She really calms the group down and Audrey had a great game as well."
Castro's defense did not go overlooked.
"Melissa's tough-nosed defense really throws off their point guard," he added of the Wheeling resident. "We put her on the other team's best player every time and she throws off their whole offensive scheme. She's quick, a great defensive player.
"I'm so so proud of the girls. They continue to amaze me, just with the tenacity they play with, and how hard they play. It's a special group, it really is."