This season’s Regina Dominican varsity basketball team was unlike any coach Bob Newton has had since he returned to the program in 2016.
The longtime coach never shied away from playing freshmen on the varsity level, but he’d never had a young group come through quite like this one. Four of the 14 players on his roster were freshmen, three of them starters — until Olivia Fraterrigo went down with an injury after 19 games.
Three of the top four scorers were freshmen, including Fraterrigo, who, despite missing the last 10 games, still finished as the team’s leading scorer at 10 points per game.
“The kids that were on the team last year realized that this freshman class was good and they were going to make them better, so it’s been seamless since the summer,” Regina coach Bob Newton said about integrating the team. “These kids are fearless and we told them ‘We’re going to put you out there and you’re going to play. You’re not a freshman, you’re a varsity player, age doesn’t matter. And they made a huge difference.
“Trust me, we’ll be back here next year.”
So when the Panthers met DePaul College Prep Thursday, Feb. 23, for the second consecutive season in an IHSA Class 2A sectional final at DePaul Prep, they were accomplishing something that hadn’t been done in the Regina program since the 1984-’85 seasons.
For senior Kendall Williams, who has been a four-year varsity player, being a part of that is something that will always stand out.
“This feels great to be here,” she said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I wouldn’t have it any other way, with any other team.
“It’s been nice to see how the team and progam has changed over my time. The team has been so close this year, because we just get each other.”
Unfortunately for Williams, Newton and their fellow Panthers, they fell to the Rams again, this time with a 50-25 result. It ended Regina’s season one game shy of the supersectional, where the team has not advanced since the 2003, when it finished third in the state.
The teams traded baskets early in the first quarter until DePaul Prep took the lead for good with about two minutes remaining in the opening period.
The Rams would extend their lead to 11 going into the half, making a comeback tough for the Panthers, who shot 20 percent from the field on the night.
The Panthers had a chance to get back into the game early in the third quarter, holding the Rams to just four points for more than five minutes, but could not capitalize.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” Newton said. “We made a couple mistakes with passing the ball on the sideline but we also had shots that didn’t go in.
“We had three shots that went off (the rim) and if any of them go in … I told the kids get it to within 10 and now they’re on their heels. It never went to nine but went to 11, then 13 and it never got below 14 after that.”
“What they (DePaul) did really well was they would shut us down really quickly,” Williams said. “Their defense was phenomenal. They would get up on us, pressure us, and that’s one of our weaknesses, when we face pressure.
“They’d make us work, speed up, get in our faces.”
DePaul Prep built on its lead by holding the Panthers scoreless for a majority of the fourth quarter.
Freshman Jillian DeFranza led the Panthers with 12 points, while junior Payton Olszewski added 8.
The two are just a two of the many potential returners for Regina. The Panthers lose just three seniors, most notably Williams, who is also a volleyball and track and field standout.
But Newton is excited for the future.
“This is the first time since ’84-’85 that Regina has had a team in the sectional championship in back-to-back years,” he said. “These kids are ripe for more, they just don’t know it.
“We’ve got four more freshmen that are going to be really good, three of whom might be with us next year. So we’re going to have seven freshmen and sophomores. We’re happy.
“We wish we won, but we know we can get this next time.”
So is Williams, who, while sad to see her Regina basketball career end, is happy with how it turned out.
“To be a Regina Panther has been … to play hard, play smart, hold your head high, even when you might fail and be a team player,” she said. “It’s truly been a great experience.”
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