”She’s got to be exhausted, right?”
Stevenson coach Ashley Graham had those question about Emory Klatt after the Patriots’ 36-32 Supersectional win Monday, over Loyola Academy at Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights.
Klatt, averaging 12.9 boards per game coming into the night, put on a clinic on the glass on both ends. Graham noted that after nearing 400 rebounds, Klatt will have a chance to finish near the single-season school record of “about 470 or 477” held by former Ms. Basketball of Illinois Tauja Catchings.
Klatt’s offensive boards manifested in some extra buckets for the Patriots against Loyola, while her defense in the Stevenson zone helped the Patriots to hold a fifth-consecutive opponent under 35 points.
A 6-1 sophomore forward, Klatt has the frame to body out opponents, plus the instincts and drive to chase every loose ball.
“I feel like defensive was more important than offense in this game,” Klatt said. “Every single time the ball was going up, I know they went straight to me. I had a target. The defensive end was so important especially … our defense was the key to our success.”
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Graham, in her seventh season as Patriots coach, makes her first trip to state with the Patriots and will be seeking her 50th victory in two seasons, compared to just four losses.
“Her athleticism, her tenacity and just her willingness, she’s got a nose for the ball,” Graham said. “She works at it to give herself second chances, give her team second chances and then to control the power zone on the defensive end.”
“You have to say that for sure it’s her athleticism and her instinct,” Graham said. “She’s got a natural nose for the ball. But again, she works at it. In practice, she’s relentless in her swim-moves, her spins, her body position and that’s something we rely on.”
Klatt has established her presence on a crew that has had a remarkable balance between its top three producers that include senior guard and Penn signee Simone Sawyer and Illinois-Springfield recruit Ava Bardic, a senior guard. They add height and shot-blocking prowess from junior forward Kate Arne and ball-handling and defense from underclassmen Kendell Williams (a sophomore) and Nisha Musunuri (freshman) for quite the talented top six.
The victory was one for revenge after the Ramblers won the first meeting of the two in November, 56-50.
“We’ve improved so much since … I know the date … November 22nd. We’ve improved so much since then,” Bardic said. “Those last few minutes were the biggest minutes I’ve played in my life. The whole bench, the whole crowd, it was amazing.”
A Feb. 11 loss at Nazareth Academy also gave the Patriots some perspective that Bardic thinks was ultimately good for the program after 26-consecutive victories.
“I actually think losing to (Nazareth) was good for us,” Bardic said. “I think we actually learned … we were coming into playoffs a little too confident. Taking a loss right then actually I think motivated us to play even better and refocus our energy what the end goal was.”
Always having threats across the floor has put Stevenson in a position to win its first state championship since 1996. The Patriots’ last state appearance came in 2001, when they lost 44-38 to New Trier.
“It’s crazy. I never would have dreamed this ever,” Klatt said. “Since I moved here … this year is so special, for it to be my sophomore year going to state, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
Illinois-Basketball.com’s Kaleb Carter live-streamed the final minute and the celebration that ensued. That included an interview with Klatt.
Benet Academy is playing in its fourth state semifinals since 2015 and fifth overall. The Redwings overcame a slow start by Navy commit and senior forward Morgan Demos in a 44-37 win over Whitney Young in the Supersectional, thanks to sophomore star Lenee Beaumont scoring 23 points.
Benet was our top-ranked team in the final regular season girls top 25 rankings. Stevenson was No. 1 for much of the season. This may be a de facto state championship game, though the difference between Benet, Stevenson, Bolingbrook and Barrington is pretty slim. Any of them could find a way to win. Barrington will be the underdog of the group.
East Suburban Catholic Conference supremacy is apparent at the top of Illinois girls high school basketball. In addition to Benet making the semis in 4A, Carmel Catholic and Nazareth Academy are both in the semis opposite one another.
The lone 3A team to defeat Nazareth (32-2), Sycamore, was defeated by Carmel Catholic (26-7). Meanwhile, the Corsairs have lost to Nazareth by double digits twice this year. And of course, be on the lookout for the tall pair of Carmel’s Jordan Wood (a Class of 2023 Michigan State commit) and Grace Sullivan, a senior Bucknell signee.
Civic Memorial (32-4) is set for its first state appearance led by the likes of Olivia Durbin (Jr.), Kelbie Zupan (Sr.) and Meredith Brueckner (Fr.). Each is lethal from three-point distance. The Eagles have made 285 triples this season.
Morton (28-5) is certainly no newbie to Redbird Arena. The Potters have won four titles under coach Bob Becker, and Harvard commit Katie Krupa, a senior, makes a strong case as maybe the best senior on a team still alive in the postseason. Krupa, with one championship to her name, will be playing in her third state title game. Her 17.7 points per game makes her the leading scorer at 3A state.
Pana (35-1) has five players who have made at least 19 three-pointers and are led by Jillian Hamilton’s 18 points per game. Its lone loss is to 3A Lincoln, who it later beat, and Pana enters the game on a 31-game win streak.
Quincy Notre Dame (28-3) junior Abbey Schreacke is the best scorer left in the state, regardless of class, at 25.2 points per contest. Winnebago (34-2) has some strong wins on its resume, including an overtime victory at Fremd.
Fieldcrest (34-2) is in the midst of a historic season for the program and narrowly defeated Butler College Prep at Morton College to earn its first opportunity in Normal. They’ll be the shortest team, with no player at 5-11 or taller. They have a balanced attack with five players who average at least 8.5 points per game.
Brimfield narrowly defeated Okawville in a Supersectional matchup that I thought featured the state’s two-best 1A teams. It was Okawville’s first and only loss to a 1A program this season. Brimfield and star senior star and EIU signee Ella Lune are set out to win the program’s first state title. Lune, averaging 19.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists, helped lead her team to a 29-4 record after playing a challenging schedule in the non-conference.
Neoga (28-7) is a balanced team that gets production throughout the lineup but gets the most from 6-0 junior forward Sydney Richards. This is the first state appearance for the program.
Senior point guard Katie Baker does a little bit of everything for Serena (33-2), which enters on a 29-game win streak.
Galena (31-3) gets contributions from all over and its defense has not allowed 40 points or more in a game since Jan. 17.