Just over a week ago, the Oswego Panthers girls basketball (24-7) team lost their starting point guard, sophomore McKenna Engler, to a devastating knee injury in a regional semi-final win. Now, three games later, the Lady Panthers are headed back to Super Sectionals for the first time since 2010.
Early in Thursday’s game against Joliet Central (24-7), the Panthers jumped out to an early lead – thanks to an 8-0 run led by junior Julia Henrikson, who hit three shots from beyond the arc in the early going.
“When she’s on, everyone starts rolling a little bit,” Panther head coach John Carlson said about Henrikson’s performance. “We need her to shoot and we need her to play D.”
Henrikson’s quick to shoot mentality has been with her all year long. That was evident last night, as she pulled the trigger from deep seven times and hit four of those shots (57 percent).
“I’m always set, I’m always ready for the ball,” Henrickson said. “It’s just part of my game and my routine.”
Henrikson finished with 17 points, three boards and two assists.
Junior Jenelle Rogers also got things rolling for the Panthers early, as her and Henrikson were the only players score for the team in the first half. Her defense and rebounding helped them force 10 first half turnovers and go into the break leading 20-12.
The fans knew that the other Panthers scorers weren’t going to be held down for long. The second half became junior Danielle Dorillio’s time to shine.
With time running down in the third, the Panthers looked to extend their lead. Henrickson started a drive and kicked it out to Dorilliofor a wide open three. The Dorillio nailed the shot and gave her team a 10 point lead heading into the final quarter of play.
“Julia pointed at me after she made the pass,” Dorillio said. “I just knew we needed to build a bigger lead to finish it out and we got it.”
Dorillio scored all 10 of her points in the second half, including seven in the fourth quarter.
Not all the work was done with points, however. Junior Jennah Rogers put work in on the boards, posting 12 of them by the end of the game. Her tenacious defense helped to shutdown the explosive steelmen offense.
“It was a team effort,” Jennah said. “Everyone did their part. Everyone played good defense.”
The fourth quarter became a free throw fest, and the Panthers eventually went on to win by 20, 48-28.
The loss of Engler meant the team would have to look other places for the spark she provides. So, they looked to each other. The Panthers came together around teamwork, belief in one another and comradery.
After the game, almost every player had the same thing to say: My teammates believed in me.
“When I’m open, I got it,” Dorillio said. “Especially when my teammates believe in me, I make sure I make them.”
Not only did the girls feel that their teammates trusted in them, they believed in their teammates.
“We worked as well as a team as we ever have before,” Henrikson said.
And what about the feeling of being a sectional champion? Well, it’s an emotion that not many people have experienced, and even though it’s one the Panthers are feeling now, it has left them speechless.
“I can’t describe it in words,” Jennah said.
Oswego has no plans of stopping now. Their Super Sectional game is scheduled for Monday at Lewis University against Benet Academy who beat Montini Catholic last night.
“We’re playing our best basketball at the right time,” Carlson said. “That’s all you can ask for from any team.”