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Girls Basketball: Mackenzie Stebbins, 'misfit' Tigers wrap up regular season in style

Wheaton Warrenville South uses 21-0 run to roll to 12th straight win

Wheaton Warrenville South junior MacKenzie Stebbins drives past Naperville Central's Mia Lakstigala  Jan. 25 during their game at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.
Mark Busch -
Wheaton Warrenville South junior MacKenzie Stebbins drives past Naperville Central's Mia Lakstigala Jan. 25 during their game at Wheaton Warrenville South High School. Mark Busch -

NAPERVILLE – Wheaton Warrenville South juniors Mackenzie Stebbins and Kylie Ruggles aren’t the type of basketball players that draw the attention of college scouts.

Neither do any of their teammates.

Yet they consistently do the only thing that really matters to them – win.

The Tigers capped a regular season that was as glorious as it was unexpected by routing host Naperville North 60-39 in DuPage Valley Conference action on Thursday.

All five starters scored in double figures for the Tigers (24-3, 14-2), who enter the playoffs riding a 12-game winning streak. WW South, which finished a game behind Naperville Central (25-5, 15-1) in the DVC race, made 60 percent of its shots, including 10 3-pointers. The Tigers also went 10-for-10 from the line and held Naperville North’s freshman sensation, Greta Kampschroeder, to a career-low seven points.

“I guess [it is] team chemistry,” Stebbins said. “We always know where each other are and we all trust each other with the ball.

“I don’t think a lot of teams can say that about other people. We’ve been playing with each other for two, almost three years now and everything works for us.”

Everything worked against the Huskies (15-11, 10-6), who never led but tied the game on three occasions. The last came on a 3-pointer by Nikki Kwilosz with 3:23 left in the second quarter.

The Tigers responded with an incredible 21-0 run, capped by Kennedy Youngblood’s two free throws at the 3:07 mark of the third quarter, to take a 40-19 lead.

“The kids played great,” WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. “We moved the ball well.

“I thought we made a nice adjustment at halftime and [after] the first four minutes so the second half, that was it.”

Indeed ,the Huskies had no answer for WW South’s defense, which was stingy as usual, or the visitors’ offense, which was surprising diversified. The Tigers recorded an assist on nearly every basket, with 3-pointers interspersed with great passes to the cutters and some timely drives.

Ruggles,who sank three of her four treys early when the game was still tight, led the way with 15 points, four assists and four steals. Center Jayla Johnson, a 5-foot-8 senior, added 13 points and seven rebounds. Stebbins and Mira Emma each recorded 11 points and five assists, and Youngblood tallied 10 points.

“We really just focused on keeping our composure throughout the whole game,” Stebbins said. “We know that people are going to sink on Jayla in the post and she knows that too.

“She’s an awesome player down there and she knows when to kick it out to people like Kylie to knock down those 3s.”

It wasn’t just Ruggles. Emma drained a trio of treys, while Youngblood hit two and Stebbins one. Kwilosz made four 3s in scoring a game-high 16 points for the Huskies, who had only three other players score.

“I just think it comes down to confidence in each other,” Ruggles said. “We can’t do it without all of us in it together, so we all have confidence in each other and that’s what it comes down to.”

But none of the Tigers predicted this kind of success.

“Absolutely not,” Ruggles said. “People look at us and they think we’re short and it’s [a team of] misfits.

‘We are the misfits, basically, and people just don’t expect us to have that run.”

The Tigers, who are seeded second behind defending state champion Geneva at the Lake Park Sectional, are poised for a long playoff run. They host their own regional next week.  

“We’re [facing] good teams in the playoffs but we’re all family,” Stebbins said. “We know where we’re going to be and who is capable of doing what in certain areas. That just helps us.”

Kroehnke knows better than to underestimate his team.

“It’s a special group,” he said. “It really is.”


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