As my last official vainglorious act of self-celebrating my 10-year anniversary writing this column, I wanted to present one of my fondest memories covering high school sports in this area to date. Let me make clear, so as to not offend anyone or any school, that this is just one of my fondest memories — there are 7,214 fond memories and counting.
In the photo that accompanies this column, you see a group of high school basketball players in a joyous heap. You can see Nicole Rivera (center with black head band), who is now an assistant basketball coach at Trinity in River Forest. You can see portions of Claudette Towers, Margaret Knap, Erin Lawless, Raven Gengler, Elizabeth Marino, Breanne Smilie and the rest of the 2000-’01 Fenwick girls basketball team. You also get a gander at head coach Dave Power, on the left donning suspenders and appearing as though he is trying desperately to refrain from jubilantly leaping onto the pile and unintentionally injuring a few of his players.
Who you don’t see is little freshman Kristin Heidloff.
Let’s rewind about 20 seconds before former Wednesday Journal staff photographer Frank Pinc took this shot. We’re at Marshall High School in Chicago, home to many a top-notch girls basketball team. Legendary Commandos coach Dorothy Gaters has won seven state titles by this point — she’ll win another in 2008. Marshall is ranked sixth in the state. It’s the middle of a cold afternoon in late January. The gym smells of sweaty socks and is about as comfortable as a busy Russian bathhouse.
Fenwick’s Sarah Kwasinksi and Marshall’s Cappie Pondexter have battled all afternoon. Pondexter, who goes on to be a three-time All-Star in the WNBA, would finish with a game-high 24 points. Kwasinksi would score a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The two teams have scuffled for nearly five quarters, and fatigue has set in. The Friars are trailing 53-52 with only seconds on the clock in overtime.
Fenwick sophomore Erin Lawless out-jumps two defenders for a defensive rebound. She quickly zips an outlet pass to the 5-foot-6-inch Heidloff, who races down the side of the court, pulls up, and with a Marshall defender in her face, buries a 15-foot, fade-way three-pointer at the buzzer for the victory. What happened next is captured in the photo.
Heidloff is on the bottom of that pile.
“I was praying it was going to go in,” she told us after emerging breathless but elated from the celebratory pile-on. “I just knew I had to at least get it near the rim.”
Nearly three months later, the two teams met again in the Class AA State Quarterfinals at Redbird Arena in Bloomington-Normal. Pondexter scored 28 points, but Lawless, Kwasinski and Heidloff combined for 42 and the Friars iced the Commandos 63-54, this time without overtime.
The pile of joyous players in this photo also went on to win the state title that year.
Happy 10-year anniversary, ladies.