Big Rebound: The Giants have increased their win total ninefold — and they’re just getting started
To be frank, there was no other direction for Highland Park girls basketball to go but up.
The Giants, though, have taken the fast track of progress. Their nine wins in half of this season are eight more than they collected across the previous two seasons combined (0-16 in 2021, 1-21 in ’21-’22).
“We’re doing a lot of good things,” said coach Jolie Bechtel, who is in her 18th year with the Giants. “We’ve made a lot of progress in a short amount of time. The addition of some new players are definitely making a difference.”
The primary newcomers are freshmen Maddie Chabot, a 6-foot post player, and Reese Crosby, a 5-10 guard, both of whom are starters for the Giants.
Chabot has been the team’s leading scorer and rebounder this season. She recently posted an 18-point, 12-rebound game in a Jan. 10 win against Maine East and earlier this season went for 26 and 14 in a win over Niles North.
“She’s good around the basket and has show good footwork, especially as the season has gone on,” Bechtel said of Chabot. “She’s a really strong presence … and we have been fortunate to have a mismatch (in the post) a lot of the time.”
But it is more than Chabot’s box-score production that has helped Highland Park. With her on the court, as well as Crosby, the team’s primary ball-handler, pressure is taken off of returners like 6-2 junior McKenzie Reitmayer and 5-7 junior Julia Leshtz.
The dynamic was on display in the Grow the Game shootout Jan. 6-7, when Reitmayer led the Giants to two wins: 38-31 against Lane Tech in overtime Jan. 6 and 35-31 over Normal University High on Jan. 7. The junior drilled four 3-pointers and scored 18 points against Lane Tech and racked up a team-high 16 points against Uni High.
Crosby and Reitmeyer added 13 points apiece in the Giants’ Jan. 10 victory against Maine West.
“Mackenzie was kind of our point guard last year,” Bechtel said. “We needed her to handle the ball, but now she is a true post player and our best three-point shooter. It has freed her up a bit.”
Bechtel also credits her players’ offseason work for the improvement, but now Highland Park has reached the latter half of its season. With eight games to play before the postseason, Bechtel and company are looking at how to finish strong.
Bechtel believes the Giants — who start four players 5-10 and taller — can get better defensively, including pressuring their opponents and rebounding the basketball.
Whether Highland Park can be a postseason threat is yet to be seen and not Bechtel’s focus. She is working on building the Giants one step at a time.
“One of the things we talk about a lot is just being better every day, even if it is just in the little things,” she said. “In a timed sprint, are you one second better today? Just doing the little things better and by doing the little things it will allow big things to happen. That focus on just being better has allowed us to get where we are at.”
Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319