It, by all means, was a perfect night to go and gauge just how dominant, how intimidating, how menacing everyone state-wide and nation-wide believe the Fenwick girls' basketball team to be. The Friars, after 17 straight wins, a No. 1 ranking in the state and a No. 3 ranking in the nation, were coming off their first loss of the season, a disappointing and disturbing (I'll get to the disturbing part later) 55-40 pasting by Sandburg on Jan. 4 in the Sweet 16 tournament.
So, last Thursday night at the Fieldhouse before the Friars took on a respectable yet height challenged Bishop McNamara, I, a bit prematurely it turns out, felt a walloping in the making. The tallest starter for the Lady Irish is a gracious 6-foot. Fenwick's starting lineup shapes upward with two players well-over 6-foot, Devereaux Peters and Samantha Woods, the rest no shorter than 5-11. There was a distinct mismatch everywhere on the court. There was hardly a crowd on hand; it was quiet enough to hear both coaches hollering commands clear and concisely.
There was no doubt in my mind that Fenwick was going to pummel Bishop McNamara into oblivion. I'd seen it before when Sarah Kawalaski ran the team, when Erin Lawless ran the team, when Kristin Heidloff ran the team. I even saw it when all three were on the same team at the same time. You just don't want to be Fenwick's opponent following a loss. The Friars will use you as a punching bag, and then as a doormat, before you even break a sweat.
I waved bye-bye to Bishop McNamara as the first period got underway.
To my dismay, and to the dismay of the scant crowd, Fenwick looked nothing more than a mediocre team with a few lanky players. In the first few minutes, the Friars threw more passes away than the Bears' entire quarterback contingency this season. They looked lackadaisical, preoccupied, detached, flat. They looked bored.
Head coach Dave Power was forced to call two time outs to rouse his sleepy team.
Despite the height, the home-court, the hoopla advantage, Fenwick trailed 9-8 at the end of the first quarter.
This is a team ranked No. 1 in the state? I wondered. Ranked third in the nation? They can't even rotate the ball quick enough to crack a flimsy zone defense. Coming off a loss, you'd think they'd be fired up. Sandburg had come off a loss with such angst they upset Fenwick. Where was Fenwick's angst?
The second period was more of the same. If it wasn't for Holly Harvey's 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half, the Friars would have been tied with the Lady Irish at 18.
The real Fenwick Friars emerged in the second half, pulling ahead 32-20 by the third quarter, at which time Bishop coach Jeff Bennett called a timeout and told his team, "Guess what, now they are playing hard! So we're going to have to ? "
The Friars came away with a 61-38 victory, but it was far from pretty, far from anything.
"We may look tired but we're not tired," insisted Brittanny Johnson, one of only three seniors on the team. "We just shot poorly tonight. Our defense was good, but the offense needed a little shove."
There was a sense of relief in the loss to Sandburg, said Johnson.
"Everyone was saying the words undefeated season, undefeated season, and we weren't buying into that. So it's nice to have that pressure gone. Now we can focus on the games that matter," she said.
This team can win the State title for the next three years if it wants to. It just has to want to.
Against Sandburg, ranked fifth at the time, the Friars made only 2 of 13 shots from 3-point range, 8 of 17 from the free-throw line, and AYE CARAMBA! 14 of 46 from the field itself. Could that happen again, say downstate?
Power admitted he hadn't really prepared his team for Sandburg, said he and his staff was looking forward to the East Suburban Catholic Conference match-up with Bishop McNamara, a more meaningful game.
Was this game a wake-up call?
"As far as the first half? Absolutely," he replied. "We have a long way to go."