By Kaleb Carter
Winnebago took on an early season challenge in Lake Zurich’s 2021 Exam Jamm Tuesday. Miyah Brown paced a plenty-ready Winnebago team.
Brown, a 5-10 senior guard, was named Player of the Game with 12 points. She affected Rolling Meadows immensely with her defense in a 41-39 Winnebago win.
“She’s been an all-stater since (she was) a freshman,” Winnebago coach Judy Krause said. “She certainly leads. We’ve done really well before her and the last couple years she’s been with us, she’s an important contributor.”
One of the lone-remaining unbeaten 2A squads in the state, Winnebago typically has no trouble scoring. It has now scored just 41 points in each of its last two games, its lowest total of the season. Brown and her Winnebago teammates have lit up the scoreboard for 84, 80 and 71 points in other games this season and are now 8-0.
Rolling Meadows — thanks largely to 22 points on six three-pointers by senior guard Emily Galvan — gave Winnebago its best test of the season. Some late turnovers allowed Rolling Meadows (5-4) to whittle down the lead to a single point late — 37-36 — before the winners sank timely free throws, including three from Renee Rittmeyer.
“Just because the competition was so high so I think it really brought out the best in our team,” Brown said. “We usually play teams that aren’t as strong, so playing a really strong team, it showed our placement.”
Brown is excited about signing with a newly-minted Division I program in Bellarmine. Fellow Illinois native Haley Stoklosa of New Lenox (Lincoln-Way Central) and Moline grad Bralee Trice are currently with the program. At this point in the season and with a college decision in the rear view, Brown is less worried about scoring and more thinking about how to pick up teammates.
“If they’re stuck, I want to come help them,” Brown said. “If they have questions I want to answer them. I just want to be the energy on the court.”
And while she wants to be active in her teammates’ success, others can’t help but stop and stare at her ability.
“She’s very versatile,” Krause said. “She can play in a couple different positions. And I think her God-given athletic ability certainly is something I think people respect and (are) in awe over. She’s put a lot of hard work in, and it has paid off for her.”
Nikki Kerstein has played against upperclassmen high school players since she started middle school. Adjusting to the varsity level for the Deerfield freshman has required little actual adjusting.
Tuesday, Kerstein scored 19 points, ripped off steals and assists, and made heads-up plays far beyond her years. As a result. Deerfield roared out to a 47-19 halftime lead in an 82-60 win over Simeon. Kerstein hit five three-pointers in the first-half alone.
Older sister Lexi, a junior, was on the receiving end of several fast-break layup assists from Nikki and other Warrior teammates.
“We play really well together,” Nikki Kerstein said. “Our chemistry was great. As guards … we’re able to push the ball really well and everybody had great chemistry that we’re able to move the ball around to get shots.”
Time and again the Warriors stole the ball from a hurried Simeon squad, whether it came in the half-court or when the Wolverines were trying to run in transition. Extra, timely passes led to easy buckets. Lexi Kerstein scored a team-high 25, largely on transition layups. Freshman guard Aubrey Galvan scored 21 points. Warriors junior forward Olivia Kerndt scored all 11 of her points in the first half.
“Having great IQ, it makes us get easier shots,” Nikki Kerstein said. “We have a lot of easy little buckets instead of having to work so hard for different shots. Growing up all together and playing together has helped so much.”
Nakia Bardney, one of the city of Chicago’s better senior basketball players, scored a game-high 27 for 2-4 Simeon, with 15 points and three triples in the second half. Junior guard Laurel Jackson scored 12 points.
The 7-1 Warriors feature just one senior on the roster and stand to be one of the state’s most dangerous teams soon.
“I’ve pretty much played my entire life,” Nikki Kerstein said. “I’ve played with my sister who is two years older and I’ve played against seniors since pretty much when I was in middle school. So I’ve been used to it and I’m comfortable now.”
And after the dominant win over a traditional city powerhouse, Nikki Kerstein must be aware that she belongs among the best of the best.
“We can beat any team if we’re playing the way we should be playing,” she said.