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Joliet Catholic's Mary Susan Rouse ties up Coal City's Britta Spelde. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media

A college coach in a neighboring state sent a note to the Joliet Catholic girls basketball family, encouraging the Angels in their playoff run.

Fifth-year coach Ed Schodrof reviewed it with his players before Thursday night’s 51-39 victory over Coal City in the Class 3A Coal City Regional final.

The note included a passage from former President Calvin Coolidge entitled “Be Persistent!” It read:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Schodrof thought to hand me a copy of the note because we were discussing Angels 5-7 senior forward Mary Susan Rouse.

“The persistence factor fits Mary Susan perfectly,” he said. “She is persistent.”

If you travel to Peotone to watch Joliet Catholic (24-4) in this week’s sectional, you will notice junior Jasmine Lumpkin and freshman Nicole Ekhomu early and often. They’re outstanding. Their presence this season has transformed the Angels into something they had not been the last several years.

But never underestimate the contributions made by the other starters — Rouse, senior center Trevonya McClain and junior guard Christine Ekhomu, Nicole’s sister — and a solid bench headed by junior guard Destiny Nash and junior forward Amina Green. Schodrof knows their value.

“I’ve said all season that we need other complementary players to go with Jasmine and Nicole if we are going to be successful,” he said.

“In her (Rouse’s) case, she has averaged nine points a game, and when you play in our conference (East Suburban Catholic), that’s an accomplishment. She is a tough kid and a great teammate.”

Rouse did not have her best all-around game against Coal City. She didn’t shoot well, didn’t finish on a couple of occasions and totaled two points and one rebound.

But that did not prevent helping the team in other ways. She gave her usual effort on the defensive end, may have earned a couple of new floor burns and made five steals. In fact, four steals were in the first quarter when the Angels established they would be the team moving on to the sectional semifinals.

Merely being able to contribute means the world to Rouse.

In the summer between her sophomore and junior years, she tore her left ACL. She was sidelined her entire junior season. But she remained involved.

“I was on the bench all the time,” she said. “I considered myself like a team manager. Something I was counting on just wound up being different.”

There is Rouse’s attitude in a nutshell. She loves basketball and the Joliet Catholic program.

She also plans to play in college. Rouse is making an official visit to University of St. Francis this weekend and may play there for former Angels standout Samantha Quigley, although she entered the weekend saying she was keeping her options open.

When you consider she lost an entire season, it’s fair to say her best basketball is ahead.

“She has earned whatever comes her way,” Schodrof said. “She’s a good athlete and a good leaper. She does everything the right way in life. She lifts. She has a shooting coach. She wants to succeed.”

Schodrof cited an off-the-court example of her drive.

“She has taken ACT classes,” he said. “She already had a good score, but she wanted a better one so she was preparing to take it again.”

Succeeding in this postseason does not mean Rouse must score 15 points a game and steal the headlines. If Lumpkin and Ekhomu continue to do that and the Angels keep rolling, that’s what will matter.

“My job on the floor is to box out so Jasmine can do her thing and get rebounds,” Rouse said. “If they collapse on her, I have to be in position for a kick-out.

“I do feel good now. I’m getting my leap back under me.”

Rouse and McClain are the only seniors on the Angels’ roster. Rouse, who played grade school ball at St. Raymond, was on the sophomore team as a freshman and on the varsity as a sophomore. While some of her classmates and former teammates moved in directions away from basketball, she stayed.

“Our team has really gone through a change while I was here,” Rouse said. “Before, people said we hustled well, we were scrappers. Now, they say we have a chance to go to state. That’s pretty awesome.”

The Joliet Catholic basketball team is her second family.

“The key to all we do is the girls like each other so much,” Schodrof said. “We’re like one big family.”

Rouse comes from a big family herself. Two older brothers, both Joliet Catholic graduates, played major college football, Kevin at Wisconsin and Kyle at Air Force. Kyle, though, “just got a medical discharge and is at Loras College now. He’ll be playing there,” Mary Susan said.

The brothers may have family bragging rights, but their sister is mounting a challenge.

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