Lyons Township High School junior girls basketball player Elin O’Brien endured a rough offseason with four surgeries after a resistance band during fitness training snapped into her right eye July 1, resulting in a detached and torn retina.
“I had an intense surgery four days later and that was the most invasive,” O’Brien said. “[A new doctor] inserted a gas bubble in my eye to reattach my retina. And two more laser surgeries. It was a lot.”
Now fully healed, O’Brien plays with protective goggles and is an even more potent 3-point shooter.
The Lions have their sights on an even better postseason run after achieving their first big goal – a second straight undefeated West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship – by beating second-place York 57-50 in the league finale on Feb. 3 in LaGrange.
This title was a bit sweeter and dramatic for the Lions (25-4, 12-0) because they clinched last year’s title in the 11th game. York (22-6, 10-2) only had lost to the Lions 49-39 on Dec. 16.
“Personally, for me, a tie doesn’t feel like a win so it felt good to go 12-0, a clean, fresh, undefeated in conference,” senior Ally Cesarini said.
“Last year when we won conference, I was happy for the seniors and glad that we went undefeated. This year, our goal was to win conference. Our goal is to win conference every year. And as a senior, it just feels great. It feels relieving and it’s really nice.”
Nora Ezike, the standout 6-foot-2 sophomore, had single-game bests of 22 points and 17 rebounds.
O’Brien had 13 points behind a 4-for-5 three-point shooting blitz in the first quarter. Cesarini (11 points with 3 threes), junior Kennedy Wanless (13 rebounds) and senior Ella Ormsby (5 assists) also were big contributors.
O’Brien led the Lions’ five first-quarter and seven first-half threes that opened 35-26 halftime lead.
“Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve really found my rhythm, so it felt nice [in] our last home game to shoot well,” O’Brien said.
Ezike helped put the game away with a dominating 10 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter. After York closed to 46-42 with 5:33 to go. Ezike made 6 for 8 free throws and fed Wanless for a baseline jumper.
Ezike helped LT dominate 40-26 in rebounds and 10-2 in putback points, eight coming from Ezike.
“I’m really excited that we won and didn’t have to share the title,” said Ezike, who spent most of last season on the sophomore level. “It really helped that I got a little time on varsity [as a freshman] because I was getting used to it for this year. I worked a lot in the offseason because I wanted to get a starting spot.”
This is the Lions’ second straight 25-win season and third straight WSC Silver title, sharing the abbreviated COVID-affected 2020-21 spring season title with York.
The Lions begin preparing for the IHSA Class 4A playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Proviso East Sectional and a possible semifinal matchup with No. 3 Whitney Young, which beat LTHS in the 2022 sectional final.
The week began with a hard-fought 27-25 victory at third-place Downers Grove North on Jan. 31 on Ormsby’s winning three with about one and a half minutes left.
Ormsby (9 points) and Ezike (8 rebounds) helped LTHS lead 26-17 in rebounds and score 13 points off turnovers. Great defense resulted in the Trojans’ last-second desperation three tipped by Cesarini.
Thanks to assistant coach Missi Mitidiero, the team and Meghan Hutchens found out immediately afterwards that the victory was Hutchens’ 100th as head coach.
“I’m sure glad I didn’t know it before because that game was stressful enough,” Hutchens said.