Lily Courier LTHS freshman

Lyons Township freshman Lily Courier has adjusted well to high school girls basketball from her playing days with St. Francis Xavier School.

“I would say it’s a lot faster pace but actually I was playing up (with the varsity) through the summer so it wasn’t too drastic,” Courier said.

2017 brings more challenges for Courier and the Lions. They finished fourth at Wheaton North’s 33rd annual Bill Neibch Falcon Classic after losing 50-32 Dec. 29 to West Suburban Conference Silver rival Downers Grove North.

LTHS (11-3) nearly played for its first Classic title since 1997 but lost the semifinal with eventual champion Wheaton North 40-37 in double overtime Dec. 28. The Lions had extended their winning streak to seven by beating West Aurora 40-19 Dec. 27 and Waubonsie Valley 49-14 Dec. 26 behind a 17-0 first quarter.

The 5-foot-11 Courier was the only freshman named to the 10-player all-tournament team.

“I was really excited. Since I was a freshman, I wasn’t expecting it too much, but it was a really nice honor to get,” Courier said. “(The tournament) definitely gave us perspective on what we have to work on and improve. I think we’ll only get better and we will become a much stronger team from this.”

Courier shared seventh among tournament players with 49 points in her four games – 19 against Downers North. Courier shot .500 from the field (22-for-44) with two 3-pointers.

Senior Claire Purcell tied for eighth with 26 rebounds and junior Kaelan Lee tied for fourth with 13 steals. Other top performers included juniors Emma Fink (23 rebounds) and Sidney Bugaieski (25 points) and sophomore Camille Branch (28 points).

“We were on a little bit of a roll. It would have been nice to end the year on a positive note, but at the same time we’re going to see (Downers North Jan. 27) again in conference,” LTHS coach Paul Krick said. “There are no excuses, no reasons, no blaming. If we make a mistake or don’t perform to our ability, then we identify what needs to be worked on, we own it and we get back to work. That’s what we intend to do.”

The losses were even more bitter because the Lions beat Downers North (8-7) 39-36 Dec. 10 and Wheaton North (11-3) 48-34 Nov. 22 en route to winning their own Thanksgiving tournament.

In this meeting with Wheaton North, Branch’s basket gave LTHS a 36-34 lead in the first overtime. In the second overtime, the Lions fell behind 38-36 and missed a last-second three to force a third overtime.

LTHS trailed 34-31 with 19.7 seconds left in regulation but Bugaieski drove the lane and passed to Courier for a 3-pointer from the left corner with 12 seconds left.

“I was nervous to shoot it but I’m just glad it went in,” Courier said. “I don’t think without (my teammates) I’d be doing really well at all because they’re all really supportive and including me in everything.”

LTHS missed five fourth-quarter or overtime free throws and shot 56 percent for the tournament (32-for-57).

Against Downers North, LTHS opened a 25-18 lead with 5:31 left in the third quarter after back-to-back baskets by Branch. By the Lions’ next field goal with 1:03 remaining, they trailed the Trojans 46-30.