Bennett from the Bleachers: A season to remember for women’s basketball

Sophomore guard KK Rodriguez defies gravity in the March 12, Francis Howell game. Photo courtesy of Varsity Views

Sophomore guard KK Rodriguez defies gravity in the March 12, Francis Howell game. Photo courtesy of Varsity Views

Bennett Durando
Sports Columnist

BENNETT FROM THE BLEACHERSWhen it was all over, it could only be looked back on with fondness. And ahead, there’s no way to look but up.

The women’s basketball team completed a historic season at 20-10 on March 12, in its 56-50 State Quarterfinal loss to Francis Howell at Jefferson College, taking several team records and milestones with it.

The Stateswomen’s District title (which a certain ECHO Sports Columnist predicted back in December) is their first in 14 years (since 2002); it’s the first for seventh-year head coach Patti Perkins. Perkins also led the team to a 20-win season for the first time in her tenure.

Webster ended the drought in Districts with a dominant 64-34 win over Cor Jesu, who had beaten the Stateswomen 49-40 earlier in the season.

“We knew in the beginning of the season everyone was still getting to know each other,” sophomore guard KK Rodriguez said on the early-season loss to Cor Jesu, also pointing out the misfortune the Stateswomen dealt with in that game: Rodriguez, along with senior guard Lael Jones and fellow sophomore guard Jaidah Stewart, got in foul trouble and were forced to the bench for much of the game. Additionally, Rodriguez broke her thumb during the game, and junior forward Maggy Moran was out sick.

“We knew all those things couldn’t happen again in order for us to be successful in the District Championship game,” Rodriguez said.

Though luck was not with Webster when the team first met Cor Jesu, the 39-point swing still proved how much the team had grown in a couple months.
After getting through Districts, the Stateswomen still weren’t done, making more history with a 50-32 win over Fox in the Sectional round of the playoffs, a win that earned Webster its first ever trip to the State quarterfinal.

“Getting that win against Cor Jesu was great…. Winning Sectionals and getting to the elite eight was even better,” Stewart said.

For Stewart, the Fox game was also one that included a monumental personal career milestone: 1,000 points.

In the third quarter, with the Stateswomen up double digits on Fox, all the Webster faithful could think about was Stewart’s rapidly approaching thousandth point. At 996, she knocked down a three, pulling the sharpshooter within a point of the mark.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Stewart got the ball on the high post and finished the job in stunning fashion, with a tough turnaround, fadeaway jumper that swished through with 3:27 to go, giving Webster a 48-30 lead and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Webster fans gave Stewart a standing ovation and held up signs that read “1,000” as play continued on.

“I was so glad that shot went in, struggling during the second half and having all the pressure on my back,” Stewart said. “To get it was a big deal to my family, teammates, and coaches.”

Stewart is just the 11th player in team history to reach 1,000 and she’s only halfway through her high school career. Compare that to the 10th player to reach the mark, Rachel Sondag, one of the great shooters in the history of Webster basketball, who now plays for Washington University. Sondag got to a grand last year, about halfway through the season of her senior year. Stewart is on such a rapid scoring pace that she could pose a threat to reach 2,000 before she graduates, and she can only get better the next two years.

So can Webster’s team as a whole, which will continue to grow under the leadership of Stewart, Rodriguez and Moran, who were all named to the 2015-16 All-District team.

“I know that if we can do this as sophomores, then we can definitely do it as juniors and seniors,” Rodriguez said. “And now that we see that we can, we just have to take it and run with it.”

That plan for future success was on Rodriguez’s and the other returning players’ minds after the quarterfinal loss to Howell, a game that Webster had rallied from a 13-point deficit from and had at one point taken the lead before falling just short of a trip to the Final Four in Columbia.

“It stung a little bit because we knew our seniors did all they could,” Rodriguez said, adding, “but as juniors and sophomores that are returning next year, our focus is more on what we can do next year to not have that same feeling again.”

“I’m ready to get after it again my junior year. I’m excited having several other players coming back who will make a big difference. I hope to make another run at State” Stewart said. “I think if we come in hungry and willing to put in 10 times as much work as we did this year, we will be good.”

Even with all the promise of the next two years for the team, the 2015-16 squad and its milestones should not be forgotten. “This was a special group of girls this year,” Rodriguez said.

It was a group that turned the program around and established Webster Groves women’s basketball as a major power in the state of Missouri.

It was a group that will mark the beginning of a great era.

Categories: Column, Sports

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