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Highland Park Grace Quirk plays defense during the Niles North and Highland Park girls high school basketball game on Friday, January 25, 2013. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media
Highland Park’s girls basketball team won its third consecutive Central Suburban League North championship Friday.
That’s no small feat, even in a conference that features just three teams — Highland Park, Maine East and Maine West — with winning records.
The Giants have accomplished their trifecta behind the brilliance of Lena Munzer, who will graduate this year as the most decorated girls basketball player in school history. Basketball, though, is a team game.
“We are really close. Going in we had eight new players on the team,” said Munzer, who has played on varsity since her freshman year. “It was harder to get to where we are. I’m impressed we’ve been able to do that. The chemistry feels more comfortable.”
That comfort level is no more apparent than in the emergence of Grace Quirk.
A 5-foot-9 sophomore, Quirk is the lone underclassman on the varsity. It would be easy to assume she had difficulty inserting herself into a culture of players older and more experienced. But since cracking the starting lineup against Glenbrook North Dec. 14, Quirk has acted as though she deserved to be there from the start. Her on-court play has been consistent; she registered 13 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Giants’ 49-31 conference-clinching win over Niles North.
Her strong hands — developed playing soccer, where she was a starting varsity goalie as a freshman — allow Quirk to control Munzer’s shot-out-of-a-cannon passes. Her intangibles have teammates raving.
“When we need a pick-up she knows what to say and when to say it,” junior Lucy Hoffman said. “Her timing is great.”
All season, the Giants have stressed defensive intensity. Late in the first half Friday, the Giants forced a five-second call on Vikings junior point guard Alyssa Brand.
“On defense, we want to get those calls. Grace went nuts,” Munzer said. “She was clapping, so energized. It really pumped me up.”
Quirk added: “Our bench went crazy. I was so excited. If I get excited, it’s contagious.”
And persistent. A few minutes later, as the team gathered inside the visiting locker room at halftime, all the players took their seats, waiting for coach Jolie Bechtel to enter.
Except Quirk, who couldn’t sit down, her teammates said. The five-second call lingered.
Said the pacing Giant: “This is awesome.”
“That was fuel for us the rest of the game,” Hoffman said.
Plenty of food — highlighted by a barbecue chicken pizza — was served at the postgame celebration party at a Highwood restaurant. The team talked about what’s still possible: two more CSL North wins, an undefeated conference season, a regional title, and more.
This year’s Giants just might reach those goals. Just look at Quirk — not waiting to be given permission to lead, she just went ahead and did it.
“A lot of teams warming up (before games) don’t want to be there and we do,” Quirk said. “If our team is having the time of our lives, everyone is jealous because we are having so much fun. We love winning.” ~.