ELMHURST– IC Catholic Prep sophomore Claire Wagner missed last year’s Class 2A regional final loss to Walther Christian with a concussion.
So you can imagine how excited the 5-foot-11 guard/forward was to play the Broncos again.
That chance came Thursday night in the IC Catholic Prep Regional championship game. Wagner scored 13 of her 19 points during a valiant comeback effort in the second half, but Walther hung on for a 62-56 victory.
“It was pretty amazing,” Wagner said of the experience. “We didn’t go that far (this year) but it was pretty amazing playing with my team and playing with the seniors I’ve been playing with for two years. I just felt very comfortable in this game.”
The absence of Wagner, a gifted athlete who has been a starter in volleyball, basketball and soccer since her freshman year, played a big role in the Knights’s eason-ending 55-31 loss to the Broncos last season.
Walther hosted that game, but the third-seeded Broncos were a slight underdog this time against the second-seeded host Knights. IC Catholic Prep is now coached by Todd Fisher, who was Walther’s coach the previous 20 seasons.
But the Broncos (21-9) scored the first nine points of the game and never trailed, though the outcome was in doubt until the final minute. Lewis-bound senior guard Tasia Jordan had a monster game for Walther, scoring 37 points to go with 21 rebounds, seven steals and three blocks, while Wisconsin-Milwaukee signee Kalvina Eubanks added nine points, eight boards and three assists.
“I had that group of seniors for their first three years and we knew who we needed to try to contain,” Fisher said. “But when you got some talent like that, (Jordan) was hard to stop.”
The 5-9 Jordan played like a pogo stick, constantly beating the Knights (19-13) to rebounds and elevating for short jumpers around the basket. She also used her blazing speed to get some easy transition baskets.
“We tried to stop her as much as we could but she just jumped higher,” Wagner said. “She beat us with her jumping and we weren’t boxing her out as hard as we had to.
“We weren’t really transitioning really fast back on defense as much as we had to, but we tried our best and that’s all we could do.”
It nearly worked. Wagner capped an 8-0 run with a driving layup to tie the game at 14-14 after the first quarter and later scored eight consecutive points in the third quarter as IC fought back from a 33-21 deficit.
Wagner, who also had nine rebounds and five steals, got a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the gap to 38-33 before Walther pulled away again.
Junior Gia Gaudio added 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Knights, including a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter. Senior Hannah Johnson, who tallied 11 points to go with four assists and three steals, followed with a steal and basket to pull IC within 45-44 with 7:35 remaining.
But Jordan responded by scoring the next nine points for Walther and the Knights were unable to get closer than four points after that.
“It’s a different game if we do a better job of rebounding,” Fisher said. “It was a game of runs.
“We had it down to one point and it was a one- or two-possession game at times. That’s what I love about this team. They fought to the end.”
The Knights will graduate two starters in Hannah Johnson and guard Annie Guinan but return their top three scorers – Wagner, Gaudio and Alia Johnson.
“There’s a good base,” Wagner said. “I feel like next season is going to be a good one.”