There is always an adjustment period when a new coach takes over a program.
By that standard, the players on the Lyons Township High School girls basketball team must be considered quick learners.
Despite having an inexperienced roster that has only three seniors, the Lions have gotten off to a fast 4-0 start under first-year coach Paul Krick. LTHS swept the competition to win its own Thanksgiving Tournament, clinching the title with a 50-39 victory over Downers Grove South on Saturday.
“It’s still early and we’re all learning to get to know each other,” Krick said. “The players are getting to know me and I’m getting to know them, what our strengths and weaknesses are.
“But any time you can start off on a good note like we have, on a nice little roll, then it can build some confidence. Confidence is a key ingredient in building team chemistry and belief in one another and belief in the system you’re trying to run.”
The Lions do return three starters, although one of them – 5-foot-3 junior guard Gaby Galassini – missed most of the tournament with an illness. Junior point guard Vicki Swift is in her third year as a starter and led the way past Downers South (2-3) by scoring a game-high 22 points.
Swift tallied 11 of those points in the first quarter, including three three-pointers, to give the Lions a 17-8 lead they would never relinquish. She finished 7-for-15 from the floor, including 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, but kept things in perspective afterward.
“I take [the title] for what it’s worth,” Swift said. “We’re going to face a lot better [teams] in our conference. Our conference is very tough, so this is a good start, but I think what really counts is when we get into conference.
“But I think we are playing very well. I think we’re definitely playing as a team. It’s nice to have teamwork and get those assists and see everyone doing well. That’s always awesome.”
After beating Queen of Peace, Oak Forest and Gordon Tech, the Lions had their hands full with Downers South, which battled LTHS for every rebound and loose ball. The Mustangs chopped a 12-point halftime deficit to 33-28 late in the third quarter, but senior forward Kayla Morrissey, the Lions’ other returning starter, scored on a drive and LTHS made 9 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter to pull away.
Morrissey finished with 13 points, including a 9-for-10 effort from the charity stripe, while 5-foot-11 junior center Hope Miller chipped in seven points and 10 rebounds and 5-foot-11 sophomore forward Erin Corrigan added four points, four assists, three steals and three rebounds for the Lions, who committed only eight turnovers while forcing 22.
“It is definitely a key for our success to have few turnovers,” Swift said. “That way we know going into tougher games that we have to stay calm and collected.
“Coach Krick is all about fundamentals and stresses doing the little things right because the little things will add up to big things. So we definitely have different expectations with him than we did with my previous two years, but I think everyone’s had an adjustment period and I think we’re doing very well under him.”
Corrigan and sophomore guard Nina Scaramella are the top newcomers for the Lions.
“They’re very good athletes and when the lights get a little brighter on the varsity, it gets a little more physical, a little more demanding each year that you play,” Krick said. “And I think they’re adjusting really, really well.”
Krick is emphasizing team chemistry and expects every player, even little-used reserves, to know their roles. Junior guards Marisa Kopping, Katie Lively, Megan Hickey and senior forward Carly Oboikovitz will provide crucial depth.
“I give our credit for our success right now to what I call the gold rush players; the players who come in every day who are the second-teamers who are pushing the first string, who are trying to vie for some time,” Krick said. “They’re the reason for why they’re successful right now. I really believe we’ll be as good as they push us.”