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Carmel coach Kelly Perz congratulates her player Kathleen Felicelli for playing well. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Carmel’s training room was full, like seats at a Justin Bieber concert.
Girls basketball trainer Dan Henrichs was a busy man, taping, rubbing, icing and heating in an effort to get the Corsairs ready to play Highland Park. The Jan. 15 game was Carmel’s fifth in 11 days, and injuries were starting to take their toll.
“(Senior) Kayla Quinn always has her thumb wrapped. Emma (Rappe, sophomore center,) sprained her fingers,” junior forward Paige Gauthier said. “(Junior) Cara Grandolfo had a pinched nerve. And Kathleen.”
Gauthier was referring to Kathleen Felicelli, Carmel’s point guard. The 5-foot-8 junior carves out space on the training table for rehab on a strained left calf muscle, suffered a few weeks before Christmas.
The Corsairs were 4-3 during her absence, including two East Suburban Catholic Conference losses to Marian Catholic and Fenwick. With Felicelli, Carmel is 11-4.
Carmel is built on defense — the Corsairs are allowing 43 points per game — and Felicelli is another chess piece in the team’s defensive mechanism while also providing stability to the Corsairs’ half-court offense.
“She kind of settles us down on offense, (someone) who will take tough shots in tough situations,” coach Kelly Perz said. “She generates steals on defense, a leader on the court for us. It’s good to have her back.”
And at the perfect time.
During Carmel’s brutal NBA-like stretch, it faced two of the toughest guards it will see all season. On Jan. 12, Felicelli was in charge of lightning-quick Bishop McNamara sophomore Khadaizha Sanders. Sanders got her points — 28 total — as scorers do. But Felicelli played Carmel’s step-off defensive strategy perfectly, staying just off of Sanders to keep her from running wild to the basket and waiting for help to come when Sanders took the ball to the rim.
Against Highland Park’s Lena Munzer, who averages 25 points per game, Felicelli — along with Gauthier and senior Claire Ogrinc — played straight-up man-to-man and added an extra body when Munzer entered the paint. Munzer finished with 26 points, but they were as quiet points as Carmel never led by less than five after the opening minutes.
“When teams have one standout player, we know we have to play great help defense,” Felicelli said. “We have to trust each other.”
Felicelli almost matched Sanders basket-for-basket in Carmel’s 55-49 win over Bishop McNamara, finishing with 20 points. In the Corsairs’ 51-41 win over Highland Park, Felicelli scored a more judicious eight points but might have had the game’s biggest play when she grabbed an offensive rebound with a little more than two minutes remaining and the Giants making a late run.
The ensuing possession led to a Carmel basket that all but iced the game. Felicelli’s rebound required an athletic burst, and a healthy calf muscle was mandatory to get the needed vertical flight.
Like the rest of the ailing players in Carmel’s training room, Felicelli is grinning and bearing it.
“Every time you push off, it sends a sharp pain up the back of the calf,” Felicelli said of her injury. “I’m compensating for the pain by stepping more on my toe. It’s giving me shin splints, so my whole leg is a bit messed up now.”
Yet she keeps on playing, and Carmel keeps winning.