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Queen of Peace was an 0-22 basketball team when I first talked with new head coach George Shimko.

Believe it or not, he was upbeat.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about how excited he was about some of the younger talented players he expects will serve as building blocks for a more successful program in the future.

But we spent the most time talking about seven seniors who made him proud.

Their names are Jelyn Chua, Samantha Serrano, Katie and Christine Manika, Maggie Bennett, Nicole Carli and Jackie Pullido.

None of them had much varsity experience prior to this season for a variety of reasons ranging from coach’s decision, to being cut, to being injured.

When Shimko took over the coaching position in late October, one of his first decisions was to keep all of the seniors who came out and work with them to improve their skills and enjoy their final year of high school basketball.

He felt, two weeks ago, that it was mission accomplished — except for one thing.

“I know our record is not good, but you could see them develop from where they were to where they are now,” he said. “It’s like night and day.

“We’re headed in the right direction. We just need that win.”

They got it on Feb. 3, beating St. Benedict 48-30 in an opening-round game of the GCAC White division playoffs.

“They were really, really excited,” Shimko said Sunday. “With two minutes left I told the girls, ‘I know how excited you are but you have to act like you’ve been there before, even if you haven’t.’

“When we won, we went through the (handshake) line very calmly, but when we got into the locker room they did go a little crazy.”

As well they should. And I hope Shimko did, too.

He deserves it.

This couldn’t have been easy. Shimko is used to success. For 20 years he’s operated the George Shimko Basketball School and helped along the careers of area players such as Molly Franson and Georgia Alexakos, of Andrew, Brooke Annerino and Brianna Markusic, of Oak Lawn, and Raven Willis, of Mother McAuley.

“He’s a great coach and an even better person,” Franson said. “He’s pretty important to me.”

Shimko could have served his own interests when he came to Peace, making up a varsity team of mostly underclassmen that he could mold into a competitive team over the next few seasons.

A lot of coaches who take over struggling programs do. Seniors get swept under the carpet.

Shimko wouldn’t have it.

Bennett, for one, appreciates his loyalty.

“Your senior year means everything,” she said. “It’s the last impression you make playing the sport that you love. Seriously, it means the world to you. Not only for myself, but for my fellow seniors, all we want to do is work to make our school proud, make our teammates proud and make a lasting impression before we leave.

“It’s been a lot of fun playing for (Shimko). He’s fun, but he knows when it’s time to get serious. He’s made all of us improve so much. He’s been a great help, and he supports every single girl.”

Chua and Bennett both started for the Pride. Chua earned all-conference honors and over the past 10 games has averaged in double figures. Shimko said five of the seven seniors get “considerable” minutes and all get their chances to play.

He does have some younger kids, Abby Bennett, Ciarra Juggan, Allie Herman and Mary Keenan, who gained valuable varsity experience. The lower levels had some modest success. And Shimko’s coaching reputation from club should result in an upturn of enrolling talent.

His reputation as a leader couldn’t stand taller.

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