After the way she abused Glenbrook North’s standout freshman Alexis Myers at both ends of the floor Thursday night in Northbrook, there was no doubt who earned the coveted Ace of Spades award for Evanston’s girls basketball team.
Sophomore guard Kailey Starks used her speed and physicality to turn in her most impressive performance of the season as the Wildkits bounced GBN 56-41 for their 7th win in a row.
Starks scored 13 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and set the tone with her perimeter defense for the league leaders, who improved to 8-2 overall and 4-0 in Central Suburban League South division play. Zuri Ransom added a game-high 20 points as the Kits overcame a poor second half shooting performance (8-of-34 from the field) against a Spartan team that just wouldn’t quit.
Starks, however, showed the Spartans just what relentless play is all about at both ends of the floor while limiting the flustered Myers to 9 points when the two underclassmen were matched up against each other.
Both players have tremendous upside as individuals and their head-to-head collisions should be something to watch over the next two and a half seasons. But it was Starks who held the upper hand on Thursday, and the ETHS coaches had no trouble deciding that she deserved the accolade most sought-after by varsity players in the program — the Ace of Spades playing card.
Former head coach Steve Wool started the tradition of awarding the “player of the game” such recognition and the tradition has continued over the past two decades.
“We’ve given it to girls in the past who haven’t scored a single point,” noted Evanston head coach Brittanny Johnson. “Coach Wool buys the cards and everyone signs them. It doesn’t mean you were the leading scorer, it just represents the impact you’ve had on the game.
“Before we announced it tonight you could see the other players all looking at Kailey, knowing she should get it. They knew she needed — and deserved — that moment.”
In only her third season of organized basketball, the 5-foot-8 sophomore has worked her way into the starting lineup mostly because of her defensive prowess and hasn’t really played long enough to always recognize when she has the edge on offense in a matchup against any opponent.
That changed Thursday. She took Myers to the bucket for two baskets and two free throws in the first quarter as Evanston built an 18-8 lead, and later on delivered 5 key points in the final 3 minutes after the Spartans stayed within striking range.
“Kailey always feeds off of her defensive energy,” said Johnson. “We’ve been on her lately to find pockets to score in, too. It’s so great that she identified that tonight. She’s probably the fastest player I’ve ever coached, and we’re trying to harness that quickness in our halfcourt sets (on offense).
“I thought Kailey really changed the game defensively tonight. She just needs to recognize when to use her skills on offense, too. We have a lot of players who right now are just starting to scratch the surface of their talent — and she’s at the top of that list.”
Evanston played its best half of the season in the opening two quarters, leading 35-18. But the visitors were outscored 14-8 in the third period and GBN whittled the lead down to 6 points before the winners pulled away again.
“Our defense was the best we’ve looked all season in the first half,” Johnson praised, “but the game plan we had in the second half falls on me as a coach. I think I over-coached tonight and we got away from what was working for us on offense. GBN struggled with what we were doing and I shouldn’t have changed anything.
“This was really a tough game for us because GBN is really well-coached and always prepared. We knew they’d make a run at us and we had to fight back. We were able to extend the lead, anyway, and that shows the progress we’ve made as a team.” Glenbrook North, now 4-3 overall, was led by guard Jaden DeGuzman with 10 points. The Spartans committed 24 turnovers.