Wilmette, Sports

Wilmette neighbors Loyola and Regina are each headed to the IHSA basketball championships

When talking about hoops hotbeds, like Chicago, California’s bay area, New York City, you best not forget … Wilmette, Illinois?

Sure, why not. After all, following Monday evening, the North Shore community has not one but two state-qualifying girls basketball programs. Loyola Academy punched its state ticket to the IHSA 4A final four with a 53-44 victory over Libertyville, while Regina Dominican, located just down Lake Avenue, advanced to the 2A semifinals with a 53-40 win against Phillips.

Both programs have competed in the state finals but never in the same season. Loyola has three previous final four appearances, winning titles in 1997 and 1998 and placing fourth in 2012. Regina has advanced to state two prior times, earning third-place trophies in 1984 and 2003.

Loyola Academy is on a quest to punctuate a historic season. The Ramblers improved to 36-0 with their win on Monday night, when they outscored the host Wildcats 25-15 between the third and fourth quarters to create the separation needed for a supersectional win.

Paige Engels facilitates the offense for the Ramblers on Monday.

“It just feels amazing,” senior Paige Engels said. “This has been our goal this whole year. Just doing it with these girls, it couldn’t feel better. We’ve had such a great year. It’s been so fun and the best way to end my high school career is to play with them.”

Out of the gates, it appeared Loyola was in trouble.

Libertyville snagged an 8-0 early lead, but a feisty Loyola defense helped the Ramblers turn things around. Loyola’s full-court pressure consistently overwhelmed Libertyville and forced 14 turnovers in the first half, helping the Ramblers to a four-point lead by halftime.

“Our coaches were saying we were going to really grind it out on the defensive end,” Engels said. “We really had to buy into our defense today and it paid off.”

Loyola junior Aubrey Galvan got things going on the offensive end, scoring nine of her 19 points in the second quarter, including an acrobatic, buzzer-beating tip-in off a Ramblers’ miss to close the half.

In the second half, Loyola built a sizable lead. It was nine points after three quarters and reached 16 (41-25) after five straight Clare Weasler points in the fourth quarter.

Weasler, a sophomore, finished with 12 points and three steals.

“I just knew my teammates — Aubrey, Paige — would get me open like they always do,” she said. “It felt good.”

Libertyville didn’t go down easy. Senior Rachel Rule scored 13 points in the final period to give her team a fighting chance.

But the Ramblers’ cushion was too large. Engels and Galvan combined for 11 fourth-quarter points to cinch their team’s state berth.

“In my 16 years, we’ve only been to the supersectional three times. It’s not easy to do,” Loyola coach Jeremy Schoenecker said. “We want to take advantage of every opportunity when we’re put in this situation.”

Loyola will play Fremd in a 4A semifinal at 3:45 p.m. on Friday, March 1, at CEFCU Arena in Normal. The Ramblers topped Fremd 48-46 earlier this season. Waubonsie Valley and Nazareth Academy also advanced to the 4A finals.

At the same time but 30 miles south, Regina Dominican got 19 points from sophomore Jillian DeFranza and 15 from Olivia Fraterrigo, also a sophomore, to best Phillips in a supersectional at Morton College.

Regina Dominican following its supersectional victory on Monday, Feb. 26. | Photo Submitted

The Panthers are 24-9 with many of their losses coming against larger programs, such as Highland Park, Mundelein and Niles West.

Regina will take on Notre Dame out of Peoria (32-4) at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Feb 29, in Normal.

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

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

Related Stories