Awards, stats mean little compared to character for Stevenson's Sawyer
How important is Simone Sawyer to the success of the Stevenson girls basketball team?
We'll let sophomore guard Kendall Williams explain it.
"Absolutely not," Williams said when asked if the team is as good as it is without her. "We have great players on our team, but as we say in practice, she's just Simone Sawyer. If we need a score or a defensive stop, she is always there. She's just there."
The 5-foot-10 senior guard and team co-captain (along with Ava Bardic) has played a key role and then some for the Patriots, under the direction of coach Ashley Graham, heading back to the Class 4A state semifinals for the first time since 2001. Stevenson, looking for its third state title, faces Benet Academy at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena for a shot to play either Bolingbrook or Barrington for all the marbles Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
Sawyer, inbound to Ivy League Penn next season to continue her academic and basketball careers, averages 14.5 points, shoots 55 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3-point range, while averaging 3 rebounds and 2 steals per game for a Stevenson team that is 34-2 heading into its penultimate game today.
Sawyer's exploits landed her all-tournament selections at New Trier and Dundee-Crown this season and the North Suburban Conference's Player of the Year honor. She now adds Captain of the 2021-2022 Daily Herald All-Area girls basketball team in Lake County to that list.
"She's one of the best players in the state," Graham said. "Simone is one of the most decorated players ever at Stevenson and will leave here having her mark on several categories in our record book. She has been a staple in our program and has led us to our successful season this year. I cannot say enough about the player she is. She is a triple threat in that she can hit the 3, take you off the bounce or pull up. She has tremendous athleticism and fundamentals that make her hard to stop each night."
Williams calls Sawyer un-guardable. "It's so fun watching her slice through defenders and see multiple players trying to track her," she said. "She makes them run around and go one way while she crosses over and goes the other way."
Sawyer, a four-year varsity starter and second on the Patriots' all-time scoring list, zeroed in on her shooting this season and it showed. "I have been working on it since freshman year, creating different shots, whether it's 3s, midrange or driving to the basket," she said. "I work on it a lot, especially on the weekends, doing different finishes. Trying different moves and finishes is going to help me not only in high school, but college as well."
Sawyer, whose middle sister Aleeya played soccer at Howard University (older sister Jasmine played sports in high school as well), split her time between soccer and basketball until she hit Stevenson.
"I have come a long way as a person and as a player," said Sawyer, who also plays for the Illinois Elite AAU team in the offseason. "Stevenson's program has really helped me improve."
Sawyer said as memorable as this season has been in terms of wins and losses, even more notable is the makeup of the Patriots' roster.
"One of the special things about our team is players have a lot of different roles and there are a lot of leaders," she said. "We have a long range of freshmen through seniors. We're setting examples for everybody. We do a lot of team bonding and make sure everybody is involved, no matter what age they are. I'm going to remember the people. I have had really good coaches and teammates over the years. Players I played with as a freshman on the varsity I still talk to and there are teammates on this current team that I will probably talk to forever. That aspect has definitely been my favorite part the last four years."
Williams added: "She's a great leader. Ever since I have been on the team she has been a great mentor, taking me under her wing and helping with high school and being on the basketball team."
While Sawyer and Stevenson have business to take care of this weekend, Sawyer can't help but glance into her future at Penn, where she plans on studying architecture. In fact, she's in the process of designing a Chicago hotel for a Stevenson architecture class project right now.
But when it comes to crafting her own Stevenson legacy, Sawyer said awards and statistics will take a back seat.
"You can get wrapped up in all the awards, but it's important to be humble as a person and as a team," she said. "I want to be remembered as someone who worked really hard and was really nice and humble."
The Lake County All-Area Team
Name School Year Position
Ava Bardic Stevenson Sr. Guard
Alexa Cieslinski Vernon Hills Jr. Guard
Amari Cole Round Lake Sr. Center
Emily Fisher Libertyville Jr. Guard
MaCalyn Flores Grant Sr. Guard
Rylan Foster Mundelein Soph., F-G
Peyton Gerdes Grayslake North Jr. Forward
Madison Hoffmann Grayslake Central Fr. G-F
Emory Klatt Stevenson Soph. Forward
Grace Koepke Vernon Hills Jr. Center
Avery Larson Antioch Sr. Center
Grace Lynch Warren Sr. Forward
Taylor Major Round Lake Sr. Guard
Jessie Pakaski Wauconda, Sr. G-F
Baylie Parks Lake Zurich Jr. Guard
Kate Rule Libertyville Soph. Guard
*Simone Sawyer Stevenson Sr. Guard
Alayna Soukup Lake Zurich Sr. Guard
Grace Sullivan Carmel Sr. C-F
Jordan Wood Carmel Jr. Forward
* -- Team Captain
Honorable Mention Mackenzie Arden, Wauconda, Sr., Guard; Kate Arne, Stevenson, Jr., Forward; Lilli Burton, Round Lake, Jr., Guard; Allison Dittmer, Round Lake, Jr., Guard; Piper Gallaher, Grayslake Central, Sr., Forward; Anna Gilbertson, Lake Zurich, Soph., Forward; Mia Gillis, Carmel, Jr., Forward; Carissa Guerrier, Grayslake Central, Sr., Forward; Annika Gustafson, Warren, Sr., Forward; Danielle Hanson, Grayslake North, Jr., Guard; Anna Hartman, Carmel, Soph., Guard; Mariah Phelps, Warren, Soph., Guard; Janae Pullen, Lakes, Soph., Guard; Rachel Rule, Libertyville, Soph., Guard; Ashley Schlabowske, Carmel, Soph., Guard; Monica Schleg, Grayslake Central, Sr., Guard; Inclarity Turney, Lakes, Soph., Guard; Kendell Williams, Stevenson, Soph., Guard; Kenna Wisniewski, Wauconda, Jr., Guard