MINOOKA – First-year Minooka girls basketball coach Jeff Easthon didn’t have to search long for an answer as to why his team has been so successful this year.
The Indians have posted a 23-3 record so far and are threatening to eclipse the school record of 24 wins in a season, set during the 2016-17 season.
“Defense and rebounding,” Easthon said. “These girls really like to get after it defensively, and I would say we have outrebounded probably 90 percent of the teams we have played this year.”
Easthon took over this season for the retired Ray Liberatore, who amassed a 365-290 record in his 24 seasons on the bench.
“Ray didn’t leave when the cupboard was bare,” Easthon said. “We have a ton of talent on this team, and that doesn’t hurt, either. But what really sets this group apart is that they are the hardest-working group of girls I have ever seen. You can’t play defense and rebound like we do without hard work, and these girls come out and work hard every day.”
The duo of guard Cierra Bachmann and Savannah Johnson, both seniors, have helped lead the Indians to their lofty record. It’s no coincidence, as both were members of the Minooka Junior High team that finished second in the state when they were in eighth grade.
“The girls are used to winning,” Easthon said. “Cierra leads us in pretty much every offensive statistical category. She’s our leading scorer and leads us in assists; plus, she’s our second-leading rebounder. She sets the example by the way she plays.
“Savannah is our leading rebounder, and she has some real good footwork on the block to get her shot off.”
Bachmann echoed Easthon’s statement about the reason behind the team’s success.
“The key for us is we are very aggressive on defense,” she said. “If we can keep it to a low-scoring game, then that helps our offense. We are very diverse on defense. If a team has some good outside shooters, we can pressure up and not let them get shots off. If they like to drive, we will tighten things and not let them get to the hoop. We are pretty good at adapting to whatever a team does.
“We are able to do that on offense, too. We have a pretty diverse team, and that has helped us a lot.”
Bachmann said she was unaware of how close the team is to the school record for wins in a season. Like a true competitor, her thoughts are elsewhere.
“I just think about our losses,” she said. “In all three of those games, we were right in there with the other team. We haven’t been blown out of any game, so we know we can play with pretty much anybody. We learn from the mistakes we made in the losses, and it makes us better.”
Bachmann, Johnson and the remainder of the team – which includes seniors Nicole Lovato, Kathryn Drey, Kailey Kinzler and Caitlyn Hoover, as well as juniors Abby Pettigrew, Bre Hammer, Brooke McNally, Allison Bugajski, Elizabeth Cullen and Sophie Darden – take those lessons to the court every day in practice.
“We go hard and are really competitive in practice,” Bachmann said. “We are real tight as a team. We joke a lot, but we push each other, and that makes us better in games. We have real good communication on the floor.
“For example, I know where Nicole is going to be on defense, I know where to get Savannah the ball so she can make her best post move. If I throw a no-look pass to Sophie, I know she will catch it. When it’s a tight spot in the game, we can do things fast because we know each other so well, and that really helps out.”
One thing the Indians will have to do the rest of the year is play without Bugajski, who injured her knee and was averaging nine points a game before the injury.
“Health,” Easthon said when asked what he hoped for the rest of the year. “We also want five more regular-season wins. If we can do that, we should get a good seed in the sectional, and after that, we see what happens in the postseason.”