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Morris girls basketball program making strides

Craig Lincoln for Shaw Media
Morris guard Leona Burton (30) takes a lay-up for two against Lincolnway West guard Dani Morgan (24) in the Girls Basketball Morris Regional on Monday.
Craig Lincoln for Shaw Media Morris guard Leona Burton (30) takes a lay-up for two against Lincolnway West guard Dani Morgan (24) in the Girls Basketball Morris Regional on Monday.

MORRIS – Monday’s 56-53 regional loss to Lincoln-Way West was, in many ways, representative of the way the entire season played out for the Morris girls basketball team.

There were positives for the Redskins. They led the higher-seeded Warriors from the time Katie Friend made a free throw to give Morris a 1-0 lead with 5:19 left in the first quarter until the Warriors’ Stephanie McDonald tied it at 49 with a layup with 2:36 left in the fourth quarter. The result itself was evidence of progress – Morris lost by 15 points to the same team at the Ottawa Christmas Tournament in December.

On the other hand, it was a loss – just like every one of the Redskins’ 10 Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference games (although many of them were, like Monday’s game, closely contested), and just like 10 of their last 12 games. They finished Kate Carey’s first season as head coach 9-16 overall, which is their best record since 2010-11, but is only their third season with a single-digit win total since 1984-85.

“Of course I hoped for more, and our record doesn’t show how successful of a season we had,” Carey said. “I told the girls in the locker room, ‘No, we didn’t win a conference game, but there’s not a single team in this conference that just overlooked us or didn’t have to play their hearts out to beat us.’ ”

There was one way in which Monday’s game was atypical for Morris. Very few of its games – even its wins – have featured it leading at the end of each of the first three quarters. Morris scored the game’s first eight points, and there were a few times that the Redskins looked ready to run away with it.

“All year we’ve been coming up short in the first half, and then always trying to come back in the second half,” senior Jade Fisher said. “This game was just the complete opposite. We did really good all four quarters. We just couldn’t come out with it.”

The year that Fisher’s class entered high school, Morris went 19-11 at the varsity level. It was the Redskins’ sixth winning season in seven. They plummeted to 7-22 the next season and were 6-21 in 2012-13.

I asked Fisher if she is pleased with where the program is as her time as a part of it comes to an end.

“Yes and no. I feel like Coach Carey’s a really good coach, and the girls are gonna have a lot of fun with her all through the years. I feel like it’s going to improve better and better every year,” Fisher said.

Morris has shown the ability to win within the NIB12 East before. It went 6-4 in conference play during the NIB 12’s inaugural season in 2010-11. Since then, it has one conference win in three seasons.

“We’re still kind of growing within the conference to be a competitive team, but this year we were there,” Carey said. “Next year, we need to take it and be winning the games, and I think the girls have gained a lot of confidence within conference play. We’re coming off two bad years of conference play – years where we weren’t even competitive. There’s some mentality behind that.

“I think we’ve made strides. It’s not been fixed, but we’ve made strides.”

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