Alesia steps up in Hersey's win over New Trier
Call it a breakout game for Natalie Alesia, who got the break she needed when she made the Hersey freshman girls basketball team two years ago.
Alesia's career-high 17 points played a huge part in Class 4A No. 1-ranked Hersey's 61-50 nonconference triumph over visiting New Trier on Saturday afternoon in Arlington Heights.
"Nat's a great story," said Hersey coach Mary Fendley. "She actually didn't make our feeder teams and she just stuck with it. And she went from our freshman team to playing on the junior varsity last season. And it's pretty rare for a kid to just step right in to be a starting varsity player after not being on varsity the previous season."
It's also pretty rare to be playing in a starting lineup with three future D-I athletes, Megan Mrowicki (soccer at Notre Dame), Kelsey Neary (lacrosse at UConn) and Katy Eidle (basketball at Michigan), who tossed in a game-high 25 points with 5 steals. Like Alesia, they are all juniors.
"It; s so much fun," Alesia said of that opportunity. "To have my friends out there who are all such insane athletes, it's crazy.
"I kind of just came out of my shell in this game," she added. "This is how I used to play on junior varsity. I used to be a shooter and had a good amount of points on that team. It's just taken me a few games to get through here on varsity."
It took a little time for Hersey (10-1) to assert itself (led 35-30 at half) on Saturday against a pesky New Trier squad (6-5), which was led by senior Abby Ryan's 14 points.
"We came in today focusing on wanting to get better," said Teri Rodgers, the former Libertyville High star who has won more than 500 games at New Trier. "And we wanted to focus on the process of playing well and I thought we did a really good job. We competed hard. Hersey is so good on the offensive boards. I think that was really the kicker for us. They just got so many second-chance shots and you can't give a team like Hersey that many chances."
Leading the way on the offensive boards for Hersey was Mrowicki (9 points) with 8, (10 total) while sophomore Annika Manthy grabbed 5 rebounds.
Fendley said Manthy and junior Mackenzie Ginder did a nice job picking up the slack for senior starter Val Allen, who did not play due to illness.
The Huskies led by 5 after three quarters but went on a 9-2 run (7 points by Eidle, including a 3-pointer) to grab a 56-44 lead with 4:43 left.
"We finally started to click and mesh in the second half," Alesia said. "We were seeing the openings. We are getting better at working together in every game. New Trier is a really good team and I'm really happy we got to play then now because we are going to see more strong teams in the future and we have to keep growing our game."
After going 16-0 and finishing No. 1 ranked last spring, Hersey is now 26-1 for the calendar year and still sitting at No. 1.
"I'm just proud of the girls," said Fendley, a winner of 492 career games. "We just want to keep working day in and day out. Playing back-to-back games is hard and they did the same thing. But we have a welcome target on our back right now with our nice ranking, But I've talked to them about Purdue (men's basketball). It was their first time in school history ranked No. 1 and they went out and lost to Rutgers (earlier this week). Everyone was excited about it and I was, too. But right now, if we are the top-ranked team, everyone wants to beat us, too, and I think my girls are up for that challenge."
Alesia (3 3-pointers) and Co. sure were on Saturday.
"She (Alesia) hit some clutch shots," Fendley added. "I felt every time New Trier went on a little run or got some momentum, Natalie hit a 3-pointer or got an offensive rebound. She was super clutch."