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By Randy Whalen

It might take a bit for the Joliet West girls' basketball team to find its footing.

After all, the Tigers graduated seven seniors from last season's squad, which went 20-12. They also have a new coach and a new style with former Joliet Township player Breanna Blackmon, who graduated from Joliet West in 2008.

While Joliet West went 1-3 at the WJOL Tournament this past week, the win showed what type of team this can be. 

That was a 65-44 victory over Joliet Catholic Academy on Friday, Nov. 17 in a WJOL Tournament pool-play game at Joliet Junior College.

Christina Keoborakot, a senior point guard helped lead the way in the victory, scoring 10 of her game-high 15 points in the second half. Junior guard Makayla Chism added 12 points and nine rebounds, senior forward Maziah Shelton came through with 12 points and eight rebounds, and senior center Brooke Schwall made her presence known for the Tigers with 10 rebounds.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Finally,’ because I know our team is going to be good this year,” Keoborakot said of getting the initial victory. “We’re a force to be reckoned with, so the fact that we’re finally here, stepping on the gas and getting going, it’s really good.”

Senior forward Tahira Henderson added nine points, and senior guard Ingrid Troha, who transferred from JCA for her senior year, scored seven points for Joliet West.

Sophomore forward Symone Holman led JCA with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Abby Dulinsky had 10 points, while guard Camryn Kinsella had 10 rebounds and forward Sophia Mihelich, who are two of only three seniors on the team, scored seven points for the Angels, who finished 0-4 in the tourney and were 0-5 overall at the end of last week. 

But the Tigers got the much-needed win thanks to their balanced scoring efforts.

“It’s a really big relief,” Chism said. “We were 20-12 last year, so we’re usually a winning team. Going 0-2 at the beginning of the year gave us a fire to finish it out (Friday) and get the win.

“I know a lot of the Joliet Catholic girls. It’s just a friendly rivalry and that makes it even better to get the win against them.”

The game had some odd ebbs and flows. Joliet West jumped out to a 10-0 lead and then led 15-4 with 3:11 left in the first quarter after Troha hit back-to-back baskets. The Angels, however, ended the opening quarter with an 8-0 run over the last 2:22 and closed within 17-15 after a quarter.

But the game was never tied. Ahead 19-16, the Tigers went on a 10-2 spurt, behind five points from Chism, before settling on a 29-23 halftime lead. 

"We have fire, we have intensity, our defense is always there,” Chism said. “We just have to play through all the quarters and finish off the game.”

JCA drew within five 22 seconds into the third quarter but that was as close as it got. Ahead 35-29, Joliet West ended the third quarter on a 16-9 spurt for a 51-38 lead after three and coasted to the victory. 

A lot of that had to do with Keoborakot taking charge in her point guard role, both distributing and scoring. 

“It’s not a lot of pressure,” she said. “It’s more that I take a lot of pride in it because I worked so hard to get here. It’s not like it was just handed to me on a silver platter. I got here myself, and the fact that I get to keep it going, I really like it.

“I‘m always trying to be aggressive. In the first half, I definitely had to find my groove, but once I found it, I was ready to get going. I’m glad I found it.”

In her first season as a coach, Blackmon was looking for a leader and found it in Keoborakot.

“I lean on her for everything,” Blackmon said. “I learn on her for energy. I lean on her for the game plan. I lean on her to translate what I’m delivering on the X’s and O’s. To see her facilitate that made my heart feel pretty good.”

There were some differently-paced games for the Tigers in the tournament, with all their games held at JJC. They opened play on Monday, Nov. 13 with a 72-59 loss to Minooka. Then, on Wednesday, Nov. 15, they had a much more defensive game but fell 37-32 to the eventual tournament champion, Lincoln-Way Central, 

The final day of the tournament was Saturday, Nov. 18, and brought a 65-61 loss to Lincoln-Way West in the fifth-place game. Lincoln-Way Central defeated Providence 33-24 that same day for the tourney title.

But Joliet West is still believing there are big things on the horizon this season.

“I tell them all the time that it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish,” Blackmon said. “We have to be game closers. I think offensively we got going. 

“We knew we had to stay organized and disciplined and stay focused on the target goal no matter what the score was. Against JCA, which is a really sound, fundamental team, our point guard did an amazing job being a floor general, and our shooters showed up.”

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