By James Kay
Heading into this season, Lyons Township High School's girls basketball team looked like it was going to take its conference by storm.
That all changed one minute into the season opener when the Lions' best player, Lily Collier, took an outlet pass from teammate Hailey Markworth and tried to finish at the rim before landing awkwardly on her ankle. Since that play, LTHS has gone 2-4 without Collier.
"We don't know when [Lily] will be back, and we don't want her to rush," said LTHS head coach Meghan Hutchens. "It's not what we wanted to start off, but what's great is that our kids have taken on more responsibility early on. So, hopefully, when [Lily] comes back we will be stronger everywhere."
Despite losing to Benet High School 68-55 on Dec. 5, the Lions might have turned a corner after hanging with the Redwings throughout the night.
Heading into the matchup, LTHS knew they had a tall task in front of them facing a top-2 program in the state.
"The coaches built up that they have D-I players that are really good, but I feel like it brought us more together," said LTHS junior Annabel Dougherty. "[Hutchens] told us to go in there and throw some hands. I found it encouraging."
Benet outscored LTHS 11-21 in the first quarter using an up-tempo, pass-heavy system to find holes in the Lions' defense. Even when LTHS came through with a stop, they were thwarted by the Redwings' full-court press.
This continued when the Lions turned the ball over on the first three possessions of the second quarter. Benet extended its lead to 32-13 before LTHS put all of the pieces together.
Markworth started the Lions' comeback effort by breaking Benet's full-court press and hit a running 3-pointer to make it 32-15. After another transition three and LTHS sophomore Izzy Lee making one of two free throws, Benet turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions.
Dougherty took advantage of the second turnover when she grabbed an offensive rebound and took it up strong through the trees of Benet's front court.
Benet's Ashley Berry hit a three in transition to stop the bleeding and gave her team a 36-29 lead (the Redwings were fouled on the next possession and made a free throw to extend the lead to 37-29).
LTHS responded and took back the momentum when Lions' guard Lindsay Hahn was fouled and made both her free throws to pull the Lions within six points heading into halftime.
"We came in in and really gave it our all," said Hahn. "You could tell they didn't expect that either. They came in cocky and their bench was quiet and ours was louder. We were just super hype and excited about it."
However, the Lions didn't build off their second quarter success. Benet started off the third quarter with a 13-2 run to give the Redwings a 50-35 cushion with 10 minutes left in the game. Hahn, Markworth and guard Ally Cesarni responded with three 3-pointers to lessen the deficit to 51-44, but the Redwings countered any run the Lions tried to build off.
"I think our weakest spot is starting off in the third quarter," said Hahn. "I am not sure what it is, but that is when the other team starts to get hot. So, in those moments, we need to stay positive because I think that is what will carry us this season."
Benet only outscored LTHS by seven points in the second half. Considering the team didn't have Collier (a Lewis University commit) and had dealt with its share of struggles this season, there was more to gain from the loss than the box score suggests.
"In one month, we have gotten really close as a team," said Hahn. "After the Glenbard West game, we knew we needed to go into the Benet game and had nothing to lose going against the No. 1 team in the state. Honestly after that, everyone came out more confident than we ever had with a loss."