WHEATON – With two older brothers, Wheaton Warrenville South junior MacKenzie Stebbins quickly learned to be a versatile athlete.
“I was always around sports, just getting used to being beaten up and all of that,” Stebbins said. “Sports is my favorite part of high school because I meet new people and just being with the team all of the time is awesome.”
A starter in two sports, Stebbins and the Tigers currently are shining on the basketball court. With WW South's 42-28 victory over Neuqua Valley Saturday, the Tigers have won seven straight and 11 of its last 12 to remain second in the DuPage Valley Conference.
The Tigers (19-3, 9-2 in DVC) are home Thursday against Naperville Central (22-4, 12-0). Coming off final exams week, the Tigers opened a 26-9 halftime lead before Neuqua (8-12, 3-7) came within 10 points in the final 2:41.
“You’ve got to be able to put the whole thing together this time of year and luckily the first half gave us a little buffer. I think we were able to weather the storm in the second half because we played so well in the first half,” WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. “I thought we had a great start. The kids were fantastic on defense, getting a lot of deflections, a lot of steals. We shot tremendously well (9 for 17).”
This was the 12th time the Tigers held an opponent to fewer than 30 points. Against the Tigers’ 1-2-2 zone defense, Neuqua made 2 of 19 first-half shots.
Senior Jayla Johnson had 14 points, junior Kylie Ruggles had 11 points with three threes and Stebbins had eight points and six rebounds. Stebbins also was among four Tigers with multiple steals and even took a late charge.
“She does a little bit of everything,” Kroehnke said. “She can handle the ball. She can guard a big post. She can rebound. She can shoot the three. She can take it to the basket.”
This is Stebbins’ second season as a starter. Senior brother Chase starts for the boys basketball team. Older brother Mike, a 2016 WW South graduate, was a starting quarterback and now plays football at Loras College. In the fall, Stebbins helped the volleyball team reach the regional final.
“[The sports are] definitely different mindsets but somewhat similar,” Stebbins said. “In volleyball, if something doesn’t go your way or you make a mistake, you have to go for the next play. I guess it’s the same way in basketball. You make a mistake on offense, then you’ve got to make it up on defense.”
Stebbins has few conflicts between the sports. Stebbins plays AAU basketball and there are the Tigers’ summer camps. But Stebbins does not play club volleyball and Kroehnke has not entered summer basketball leagues for at least eight years.
“I miss a lot of basketball preseason just because I’m still in volleyball,” Stebbins said.
Stebbins does not plan to play college sports. She hopes to attend a Big 10 school and study nursing.
“She’s one of those special kids. I wish there were more kids that would just play [different sports] each season and not worry about all of the other stuff,” Kroehnke said.
When the Tigers beat Neuqua 58-27 Dec. 6, junior Mira Emma scored a career-high 18 points with six threes. The tightly-guarded Emma only shot twice in the rematch.
On the Tigers’ first two possessions, Emma passed to Ruggles for back-to-back threes.
“They’re playing well. A lot of times they figure out who’s got a little rhythm going and they try to get each other the ball,” Kroehnke said.