New Trier junior Reese Leahy was in a good space Saturday, Jan. 7. That was obvious from her 9-point, 6-rebound third quarter.
But it was more than that. Leahy and the Trevians were playing on the final day of the Grow the Game Tournament and Shootout, a for-women-by-women event showcasing female coaches, players and officials, and she could tell.
“It all felt very comforting,” she said. “It was a great experience that you can’t really put into words, being able to see people around you who have had so much success that you share an identity with. We’re both women and look what women can do.”
The third annual Grow the Game welcomed 34 women-coached teams — its most yet — between an eight-team tournament and three days worth of shootout games. Eight of the participating teams are ranked in the state’s top 25 (according to Illinois-basketball.com) and another — tourney champ Norcross — is one of the best in Georgia.
New Trier coach Teri Rodgers is one of the event’s founders and marks it as a highlight in her hall-of-fame career.
“The women coaches here are some of the best in the state,” she said, “so it’s awesome to celebrate them and highlight them. The officiating crews, getting them out there and honoring them, and celebrating all the girls, it’s been awesome. It’s one of the best things I’ve been a part of in my career.”
The Trevians could not compete in the action a year ago as multiple players battled COVID-19 but they came in to Grow the Game this year playing their best basketball of the season, winning three in a row and six out of seven.
New Trier’s high-level play continued as it went toe-to-toe with two potent programs, St. Ignatius and Mother McAuley. The Wolfpack (14-4) outlasted the Trevs 55-47 on Thursday, Dec. 5, despite Rachael Zacks’ 23 points.
The Trevs rebounded with a 60-21 victory over Walter Payton in which Zacks scored 17 more to set up a matchup with McAuley in the consolation championship game Saturday, Dec. 7.
The Mighty Macs put the Trevians in a hole early, and New Trier’s comeback window was closing in the third quarter. Then, its defense stepped in.
The Trevs forced six third-quarter turnovers — including two steals by Zacks and one each by Erin Floyd and KJ Saccaro — to spearhead an 11-0 run that knotted the score at 36-36.
On the offensive end, Zachs scored 7 points in the quarter, including the game-tying deuce, while Leahy dominated the interior with 9 points and 6 rebounds.
“Honestly, I was kind of sick of losing,” Leahy said on her third-quarter outburst. “I thought, ‘I want this to be at least a close game and that’s what we’re going to do.’
“I think this team plays based off of energy. Some of our captains, like Rachael (Zacks), started to bring more energy and that started to affect everybody.”
As the Macs and Trevs jockeyed for an advantage in the final quarter, Mother McAuley found theirs at the free-throw line. The Macs converted 9-of-16 freebies in the fourth, while The Trevians just 3-of-12, leading to a 54-48 final in McAuley’s favor on Dec. 7 at Lyons Township High School in Lagrange.
Zacks finished with a game-high 17 points, and Leahy chipped in 13. Floyd and Saccaro added 6 apiece.
“We were right there. I was really proud of the kids, the way they came back,” Rodgers said. “We’re playing really well. … We just had a few moments that killed us. McAuley is a great team. They hit some great shots and we have to string a few more things together to win these games.”
That being said, Rodgers said her team’s performance in the second half against McAuley, as well as against St. Ignatius, shows growth.
Early in the season, New Trier lost four straight, including three in conference, to drop to 4-6. The Trevs also lost a key starter, junior Sela Klein, to an injury.
Rodgers said it took some time for the shorthanded Trevians to find their footing. She feels they have,and with Klein on the verge of returning.
“It really was about sitting down and having conversations about who we want to be and what we want to do,” Rodgers said. “We’ve done a better job of putting kids in situations where they are more confident. … We had a gameplan coming in (to the season) with Sela and without her, it took a while to figure out who we needed to be without here. We’re figuring it out.”
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