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Maine East’s Janelle Alba Garner (left) and the Blue Demons are playing host to Maine West on Friday. Both teams are 8-1 in the CSL North and Maine East will capture the conference title with a win. | Judy Fidkowski/for Sun-Times Media
PARK RIDGE — By almost all metrics, this year’s Maine East girls basketball team could become the best in school history.
Never before have the Blue Demons won more than 17 games in a season, Maine East coach Karol Hanusiak said. A 55-44 victory over Highland Park on Friday improved the Blue Demons’ record to 17-6.
Never before had a Maine East squad finished in the top-half of its conference, according to Hanusiak. The Blue Demons, who are currently 8-1 in the CSL North, will win a conference title if they defeat Maine West in Park Ridge on Friday night. Maine West, which is also 8-1 in conference, beat the Blue Demons 47-26 on Jan. 10.
Maine East has already accomplished so much this season, yet its two primary goals — to win a banner and break the school’s wins record — have yet to be reached.
Earning a banner, which has a royal blue background and white lettering, “would mean the world,” said senior center Shaylee Sloan.
“They’ve been just locked in because they want [to win a banner] really bad,” Hanusiak added. “This group of seniors especially want to walk out of here saying, ‘We did what nobody else before us was able to do.’ ”
A team can earn a banner at Maine East by winning a conference title or by reaching certain levels of the state series. Winning a regional title leads to a banner at Maine East, and so too does capturing a sectional title.
Maine East doesn’t have an especially storied athletic history, and evidence of that hangs in the school’s fieldhouse. The most recent banner was earned by the Blue Demons’ boys soccer team, which captured a regional title in 2011.
The scarcity of the school’s athletic accomplishments would make winning a banner this year that much more special.
“We practice in the fieldhouse and we’re surrounded by [the banners] every single day,” Maine East sophomore guard Janelle Alba Garner said. “We look up there and [realize] we can do so much for our school. It’s right in front of us. It’s so in reach, we just have to get the work done.”
Maine East has put itself in position to achieve its two biggest goals in the final weeks of the season. A showdown against Maine West will serve as an opportunity to both set the program’s wins record and capture its first conference title.
Maine East then begins postseason play with a game against Niles North, the No. 9 seed in the Class 4A Maine East Sectional, on Tuesday. The No. 7-seeded Blue Demons caught an unlucky break in the playoff seeding when they were placed in the New Trier Regional with New Trier, the sectional’s No. 1 seed. Resurrection, the sectional’s No. 8 seed, will host its own regional, which features No. 2 Evanston.
The Trevians (23-2 coming into the week), who feature 6-foot-3 standout Jeannie Boehm, beat Maine East 54-23 on Dec. 16, 2013.
Although Maine East will likely have to defeat two teams it lost to earlier this season to win a banner, the Blue Demons aren’t daunted.
“I don’t see why we can’t have the conference banner or a regional banner,” Maine East senior guard Elanta Slowek said. “We can even go as far as sectionals. We can do it if we set our mind to it.”