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Defense keys Westminster Christian's run

02/12/2013, 9:51pm CST
By Gene Chamberlain

Sectional host Westminster Christian is riding a 16-game winning streak into Thursday’s title game against Morgan Park Academy.

Westminster Christian's Claire Speweik (from left) Emma Anderson, Libbie Atchison, Mckaila Hays and Maddie Versluys walk to the sideline during an injury timeout Monday against Providence St. Mel. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

Westminster Christian’s girls basketball team is right back where it left off last season — playing for a Class 1A sectional championship.

The Warriors have a chance to earn a shot downstate with a DeKalb Supersectional berth when they host Morgan Park Academy at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Westminster Sectional title contest after their third straight easy postseason victory Monday, 58-25 over Providence-St. Mel.

The formula for making it to DeKalb for that Monday night shot at state is simple, as far as they’re concerned.

“Have confidence in ourselves and just keep playing like we know how to play,” said Westminster junior leader Claire Speweik.

Last year Westminster lost the sectional title game on a last-second three-pointer by Seton Academy, but a year of maturity and the addition of leading scorer Maddie Versluys, a freshman, has given this team without seniors a chance to make the elite eight.

Warriors coaches couldn’t help but expect to be facing Morgan Park Academy in Thursday’s title game, since Morgan Park Academy beat North Shore earlier this year by 30 points.

Morgan Park Academy did not play Westminster during the regular season, but did lose 30-26 to Christian Liberty, a team Westminster beat by 17, 19, and 21 points.

While Westminster’s half-court offense was up and down Monday — as it has at times during the postseason — the Warriors press continues to be a constant. Westminster forced 39 total turnovers by Providence-St. Mel.

“This group is good at that,” Westminster coach Ken Flickinger said.

“They have great endurance and are prepared to play the whole game if they have to.

“This is by far and away the deepest team I’ve ever had here. So that gives us an advantage.”

It’s easier to play a full-court game when Flickinger can bring in Christina Cusumano (2.5 points per game), Kinsley Donahue (4.7 ppg), Libbie Atchison (3.2 ppg) and Emma Anderson (1.8 ppg) to spell starters Speweik (8.1 ppg), Courtney Gnan (1.8 ppg), Versluys (12.1 ppg), McKaila Hays (10.8 ppg), and Liz Meschewski (4.1 ppg).

Donahue was particularly effective in the regional final win over Christian Liberty and in the sectional semifinal Atchison, Anderson, and Cusumano stepped forward.

Natural ability is the other aspect Flickinger sees making his team’s press work.

“We’re fairly fast and athletic, and we’re long,” he said.

It’s been difficult to for shorter opposing guards to see over the Westminster backcourt pressure, and players at mid-court have been able to play center field and pick off passes over the top. Of the 39 forced turnovers Monday against Providence-St. Mel, 26 came on steals.

“Our girls set a goal of being the best defensive team in the (Fox) valley,” Flickinger said.

Westminster allowed fewer points than any team in the Fox Valley for the second straight year (30.6) and are allowing only 22.4 during their current 16-game winning streak.

“They have notched it down a couple points,” he said. “They really have bought into the idea of coming out every night and playing good defense.”

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