GIRLS’ BASKETBALL EMBRACES THE CHAOS IN RETURN TO JEAN WALKER FIELDHOUSE

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Jacob Siciliano , Executive Producer

With girls’ basketball finally returning to Jean Walker Fieldhouse with a 61-43 win over Elk Grove on Feb. 6, a wave of normalcy washed over Prospect and its athletes. Jean Walker Field House has had its lights (metaphorically) turned off for just under seven months prior to Saturday’s game, and junior guard Macy Zei said she couldn’t be more relieved that basketball is back.

“[Basketball] is just a space where you only focus on having fun, and it’s challenging, but at the same time you are learning a bunch of new things that you never thought are even connected to basketball. But, seriously, it just helps me get through my day,” Zei said.

It was evident that Zei’s enthusiasm for the sport returning was amplified throughout the team as, while there may have only been 50 fans in the stadium, the bench brought the heat throughout the game. Even leading new head coach Mattew Weber to call the bench the X factor in a halftime interview. 

“It’s a whole team game. Do your part. If you’re not in the game, you still have a part which is to be focused on your teammates and helping them out,” Weber said.

Even though Prospect’s bench kept up the energy in the field house, it was still evident that basketball is going to look different in 2021. For the first time in IHSA history, the game would not start off with a tip-off. Instead, due to COVID-19, the tip-off has been replaced by an inbound for the 2021 season. Additionally, masks were required for everyone in the building and each player on the bench was spaced six feet apart. 

After the announcement that basketball would resume competition on January 27, teams were given only seven practices before their first game. Zei definitely could feel a difference.

“I felt comfortable heading into the game, but definitely not as much as I would for a normal season,” Zei said.

Prospect spent a majority of those seven days installing their defense, which worked to perfection against Elk Grove. Prospect forced 30 turnovers in the game leading both Weber and Zei to refer to it as controlled chaos. Zei accredits the immense amount of turnovers to Weber’s defense, which applied pressure to Elk Grove and forced them to play at the Knights’ high-speed pace and make mistakes. Zei, who had four steals and two pass deflections, said she loves playing in this type of defense. 

“It just makes it that [much] more fun because that’s when you really hear the bench when the balls loose because everyone wants it, and it’s just what are you willing to do to get it?” Zei said.

However, the limited amount of practice time showed offensively as both teams struggled early on. Prospect finished the first half 8-33 on field goals and 2-12 from the three-point line. However, after halftime the narrative flipped, and Zei attributed the first-half slump to just a bit of early-season rust. 

“The first half was a mix of nerves, getting the feel back and trying to see what is going on again. But, at halftime, we definitely were talking about the shots, and [the coaches] were like you have to keep shooting, they will fall. Don’t get nervous, just play the game,’ Zei said.

Zei would go on to hit two threes in the second half leading the Knights on a 22 to 9 run in the third quarter. Andie Will caught fire in the second half as well, finishing the game with a team-leading 17 points and earning the KnightTV player of the game. 

With this in mind, Zei Acknowledges that this Knights team still has room to grow. 

“We have defense in our back pocket right now, and are just kind of learning each other again, learning how everyone plays and I feel like we are going to recreate that really strong bond that we’ve always had, but it just needs to resurface again,” Zei said. 

The Knights will continue to grow that bond as they travel to take on the Hersey Huskies Tuesday Night.