LA GRANGE PARK – Ashley Konkle smiled ear-to-ear during a late Benet timeout. Afterward, she gleefully laughed at jokes.
But make no mistake: Konkle, Benet’s 6-foot-2 senior post, meant business Feb. 4. She knew she enjoyed a significant height advantage on her Nazareth defenders and was intent on using it.
And she did. Konkle’s overpowering presence inside set an early tone, and Benet took care of business from there, beating host Nazareth 55-50 to clinch the East Suburban Catholic Conference title.
It’s Benet’s second straight league title and third in four years, and it was a group effort.
Kendall Holmes kept up her consistent play with 17 points, and point guard Clara Prasse did a little bit of everything with five points, seven assists and three steals. Wisconsin recruit Brooke Schramek scored 13 points for the Redwings (23-5, 7-0) and Kendall and Lexi Moriarty helped Holmes tag team Nazareth star Annie Stritzel.
But Konkle was the immovable force, scoring eight of her 11 points in the first half to go along with 15 rebounds.
“Coach said before the game that this is a team that we really ought to get a lot of boards on. I was just trying to do my best,” said Konkle, a Western Michigan recruit. “They’re obviously not as big as us. I was just trying to power through and work it to my advantage.”
Few teams can match up with Benet’s size.
Along with Konkle there is 6-1 Schramek, 6-2 Lauren Stack and the list goes on.
Konkle, in particular, brings physicality that could pay dividends in the playoffs starting next week.
She was dominant early in the matchup for the conference title, either scoring off brute power moves in the paint or following misses. Konkle’s one dribble and post score boosted Benet to an early 20-11 lead.
When she wasn’t scoring or rebounding, Konkle was asserting herself with two blocks. She even assisted on a Schramek layup with a slick pass.
“Ashley was very dominant in the first half,” Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. “There have been games that she owned the boards even if she didn’t score a lot, and there have been games that she has been dominant scoring.”
Benet, which shot 14-for-26 to lead 37-25 after an impressive first half, had the lead cut to 39-36 on a spectacular spinning drive by Stritzel, who scored 22 points.
But Konkle came right back with arguably the biggest basket of the night, following up a miss to send Benet into the fourth quarter ahead 41-36. Nazareth never got closer.
“We’re starting to finally play more through the post and that’s really helping us,” Konkle said. “I think down the road my rebounding and strength and physical presence is going to help us. Hopefully everybody else feels the same.”
Everybody should agree that Holmes is a Benet player to identify as one to watch.
The 5-foot-11 junior got scorching hot in the second quarter, scoring 13 of her 17 points. On three straight occasions, Prasse found Holmes at the 3-point line, and she knocked each of them down.
The third, she banked in.
“I just put it up there and whatever happens, happens. I’ll take it, a three is a three,” said Holmes, who also was 6-for-6 at the line. “My teammates were hitting me and I was knocking them down.”
She’s been doing it for quite some time now.
Holmes, who has offers from SIU-Edwardsville and UAB, is perhaps one player overlooked on Benet’s roster stocked with Division I talent. But she was the MVP of the Naperville North Tournament at Christmas, and All-Tournament at Montini.
“Kendall Holmes was on fire, and she has been shooting it really well. When you’re banking in threes, it’s time for a heat check,” Kilbride said. “She had it going and the kids did a nice job finding her. She is probably a little overlooked, but I have a feeling the way she’s been playing she won’t be for long.”
Could Benet, a team seeded third in the loaded Hinsdale South Sectional, be a team overlooked?
The Redwings were pegged as a possible Class 4A favorite before the season. They have five losses, but three came to defending champions from other states. A fourth loss was in triple overtime to Fremd.
This was a good win for the Redwings to hang their hat on going into the playoffs.
“We play such a hard schedule, our girls sometimes [get down],” Kilbride said. “But the teams we lost to are really, really good teams. You need to win one against a good team, and quite honestly we have, but the girls don’t look at it that way. The girls, they are sometimes victim of expectations.”
This game met their expectations.
“This,” Holmes said, “was a game that we looked forward to all year.”
Downers Grove North
Quinn Stephens scored seven points for the Trojans (20-8, 10-2) in a 41-25 loss to Glenbard West, which clinched the West Suburban Silver title.