By Randy Whalen

North team sets girls' scoring mark


Last updated 10/7/2019 at 2:35pm

As the only senior starter for the Benet Academy girl basketball team, Tsimba Malonga knew she was capable of scoring.

But after suffering a hyperextended knee and missing a few weeks in the middle of the season, she didn’t always get that opportunity.

So playing in her final high school game, the University of Denver recruit showed what she is capable of. Malonga poured in all 21 of her points in the second half to easily help her North squad double up the South team 88-44 in the Voyager Media Girls Basketball All-Star Shootout, on Sunday, March 18 at the University of St. Francis in Joliet.

This was the ninth year of the girls game. Malonga is the second Benet player to win the MVP award. Emily Eschoo won it in 2015.

“In the first half of the game, I wanted to get a feel for it,” Malonga said, “Then when I did, my shot was just falling and I just kept shooting. It was just a lot of fun wearing my Benet jersey one more time.”

The 21 points were tied with Plainfield Central’s Hennessey Handy (‘16) for the second most in the girls all-star game. Plainfield East’s Gabby Williams (‘13) holds the record with 24 points.

When Malonga was notified in the final minutes that she was close to the record, she did what many of the great players do. She passed to another player.

As the game went, it hardly mattered as the North led 28-13 at halftime and then scored 60 second half points to easily break the girls record for most points in a game. The previous mark was 81 points by Team Taylor - under a different format, in 2015.

The Valley View School District - 365U was well represented with talent on the North team. Fresh off of leading Bolingbrook to its first sectional title since 2013, Jahari Smith (16 points), Gabby Smith (15 points) and Lynese Johnson (2 points) combined for 33 points.

“I had a lot of fun,” Gabby Smith said. “It was amazing to do. There were some amazing players out here.”

Romeoville’s Brittany Osborne (13 points) also had a nice game as she nailed a trio of 3-pointers.

Also scoring for North was Krystina Wayne (5 points) and Kelle Knopp (4 points) from Plainfield North.

“It was fun playing with different teammates,” Knopp said. “It was fun putting on the jersey again. We have been done for about three weeks now, so we were all joking about if the jersey still fit.”

Natalie Takahashi (4 points) from Lisle, Hayley Semple (4 points) from Maine South, Jen Masello (2 points) from Downers Grove South, and Sydney Pardy (2 points) from Westmont. Fiona Spuria from Maine South was also on the North roster.

Pardy and Takahashi were representing the Class 2A schools and enjoyed the chance to show their skills.

“It was super fun,” Takahashi said. “I was a little nervous at the beginning, but once I got to know my teammates, I had fun. None of us wanted to lose. We wanted to break the scoring record of 81 and we were happy to do that.”

The game started slowly, with both teams missing their first few shots. The South had an 8-7 lead on a 3-pointer by Lockport’s Destiny Davis. But Jahari Smith scored back-to-back baskets to put the North squad ahead for good. Up 15-12 the North team closed the half on a 13-1 run for the 15-point halftime lead and cruised from there.

Joliet West’s Sarah Gersch is now into softball season and will go onto play that sport in college at Saginaw Valley State University. But she made an impact not only on the court, but also off of it for the Tigers. That’s why basketball coach John Placher nominated her for the annual Voyager Media Award for her display of character, class and sportsmanship on and off the court.

That was the Jeremy Izzo Character Award, which is named after the former Joliet Catholic Academy boys basketball coach, who passed away in 2010. Gersch was this years recipient an was presented the award after the game.

“Yes, my coach [Placher] told me,” Gersch said of winning the award. “That [qualities of the award] is just what I do. I’m not out looking for an award, but it was nice.

“I played three years on varsity basketball and it was fun. I’m playing softball in college, so it was just fun to be out there playing basketball one more time.”

Gersch had seven points in the game. Her teammate - Dasia Norris was one of the co-scoring leaders of the South team with eight points. The other co-scoring leader for the South team had quite the tale to tell of getting to the game. That was Plainfield East’s Olivia Jenkins, who also had eight points.

Jenkins, however, only played in the second half. That’s because she arrived at the game with seconds to play in the first half and literally wanted to spring into action as she jumped over a chair to take her place on the South bench.

Why was Jenkins late?

“I was attending a musical at my school,” she said of an afternoon event at Plainfield East. When I got out of there I put St. Francis in my GPS and followed the directions.”

There was one problem with that, the GPS brought up the directions to get to St. Francis High School in Wheaton. Getting there and realizing her mistake, Jenkins had to double back and get to the University of St. Francis in Joliet. So a drive that should have taken 20 minutes or so, instead turned into an hour long adventure.

But being the good natured person she is, Jenkins laughed it off. She will attend Xavier University in Ohio in the fall to play soccer. But she hasn’t given up on basketball yet as she might play both sports in college.

But either way, her favorite part of the All-Star game was playing one last time with teammate Maiya Creal.

“It was nice to play with Maiya one last time,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t expect to lose when we did [62-55 to Lockport in the Class 4A Oswego East Regional semifinals]. So we weren’t ready to say goodbye then. This gave us one more game together.”

Creal scored six points in the game. Destiny Davis (7 points) and Taylor Hopkins (3 points), who helped Lockport to its first regional title in 11 years, also contributed. Emily Vollmer (4 points) from Joliet Central and Sam Lordan (1 point) from Plainfield South also scored. Deericka Martin from Joliet Central and Taylor Shingler from Lockport also played on the South squad.

“It felt good to be in this game and be out there to play,” said Hopkins, who was sidelined for about three weeks during the season with a hip flexor injury. “I was glad to get back from the injury and it was just fun to play with everyone. There was a lot of talent.”


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