Fremd captures first state championship
NORMAL -- Senior guard Emily Klaczek started to feel Fremd's first girls basketball state championship within the Vikings' grasp well before the final buzzer Saturday night at Redbird Arena.
Each time Klaczek went to the free-throw line -- and she went often in the final minutes -- she'd let go of her second shot and start walking backward, watching the ball drop through the net.
"First of all, my girl was all the way back in the corner, so I had to shoot a free throw and then sprint to guard her," Klaczek said. "But also I felt it was going in. It was a little bit of my celebration, holding the follow-through and then walking back."
Klaczek built an insurmountable lead at the line in the fourth quarter, and Fremd defeated Lincoln-Way West 58-47 in the Class 4A championship game.
"A million emotions going through," she said. "It feels awesome. I'm so happy for these girls, so happy for the Fremd program. They worked hard, and you know, I'm just so happy."
Klaczek finished with a game-best 20 points in the game, making 10 of 11 free throws in the final two minutes starting with a three-point play after being fouled while making a left-handed layup. She never missed that final shot.
"When she steps up, I'm not nervous whatsoever," said Vikings senior Olivia Hill, her state medal and a net draped around her shoulders. "I'm like, thank goodness the ball is in her hands. She's automatic."
"She's done that a lot of times and she's hit a lot of big free throws," Fremd coach Dave Yates added. "It really never gave them a chance to get back into it. They're a very good basketball team and those sisters (Taylor, Tara and Ava Gugliuzza) are amazing. And Bri (Wooldridge) is a really good player, but I thought our kids collectively did a really great job."
Junior Tara Gugliuzza led Lincoln-Way West with 16 points, and all-state senior Taylor Gugliuzza scored 15.
Yates said the key was the second quarter, when the Vikings got some important contributions from their bench.
"We survived that second quarter, because we had three starters in foul trouble," he said. "And I thought Ella (Burns), Katie (Hansen) and Liz (Prigge) came in and they hit some huge 3s. Ella hit two of them. That changed the game to me. It gave us an opportunity to keep it closer because we were struggling right there."
"That definitely just bought our momentum," added Hill, who contributed 9 points and 10 rebounds. "I think after that we were kind of like, OK, we can just do this. We're in the championship game. We're here for a reason. And then we all just kind of stepped up and continued to play better."
Fremd (30-7) took the lead for good at the end of the third quarter when junior Grace LaBarge broke a 35-35 tie with a basket. Hill hit a 3-pointer, then followed with a pair of her own free throws for a 44-38 lead with 3:40 to go.
Meanwhile, Lincoln-Way West (32-4) struggled to get shots to drop.
"Their length, they're able to play far enough off of us and still contest shots," Lincoln-Way West coach Ryan White said. "It definitely gave us some problems."
Fremd became the first Mid-Suburban League team since Buffalo Grove in 2000 to win a state title.
"It feels amazing," said Yates, finishing his 14th season coaching the Vikings. "I never expect this. We've had a couple of near-misses coming down here and getting second place. It feels really good to get over the hump and finally get one. And I'm really happy for these guys."