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Deerfield Friday, 2/1/13 Maine East's Jazlene Gonzalez (13) scores during the first quarter of Friday evening's game at Deerfield. Deerfield won the game, 63-37. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times
When its members were in eighth grade at Gemini Junior High School, the Maine East girls basketball junior class was well aware of the challenge it was about to undertake.
“We always knew Maine East was losers,” Blue Demons junior center Shaylee Sloan said. “Maine Easy, that’s what they called us because it was so easy to beat us. And then our eighth grade year, Maine East’s (coaches) came to our school and we were like, ‘We want to change it. We want to get a banner and do some things.’ ”
After two lean years which saw Maine East continue its residence in CSL North’s basement, the program’s position amongst its peers has been altered this season largely because of the Blue Demons’ junior class.
Maine East starts four juniors — Sloan, point guard Jazlene Gonzalez, guard Elanta Slowek and forward Maria Protic — alongside freshman guard Janelle Alba Garner. Those five players play the majority of the minutes at their respective positions and have been able to lift the program out of its futile state.
Maine East is currently 4-5 within the CSL North and is guaranteed to finish above last place in the conference for the first time since joining the league in 1972, according to Blue Demons coach Karol Hanusiak.
Still, Hanusiak knows that her squad, which only has two seniors this season, is capable of accomplishing more.
The fifth-year coach started challenging her players to elevate the program to new heights in the preseason. Some of those goals, like reaching a regional championship game for the first time in 11 years and winning a regional championship, remain.
Maine East is the No. 8 seed in the Class 4A Loyola Sectional. It opens postseason play in the Evanston Regional against No. 10 Niles West at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“One of the first things we did at the beginning of the season was I said ‘Look up at the banners. When’s the last time Maine East has won the conference?’ ” Hanusiak said. “They were looking and looking. ‘Never.’ ‘Yeah, never. How would you like to have a banner with your year on there? When’s the last time Maine East has won a regional championship?’ They figured out it was 1982. So, all of these things are in play. This year, we got to double-digit (wins). We’re going to keep rolling.”
Despite decades of losing and finishing at the bottom of the CSL North, Maine East’s current group of juniors expected to change the program. They experienced a great deal of success in eighth grade at Gemini, and have kept that confidence as they spearheaded the program’s revival.
“We kind of turned the (Gemini) program around while we were there,” Protic said. “We were first in conference, record-wise. We were like, ‘We’re playing these same girls in high school. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be continuing to beat them while we’re here.’... We always go back to eighth grade, like ‘Do you remember when we did this? We can do that again. Nothing’s changed.’”