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Niles West nearly pulled off one of the shockers of the girls basketball season, taking conference-leader Evanston to overtime before ultimately falling 41-37 on Jan. 31.
The fact that Evanston was celebrating its Senior Night, which included an emotional pregame ceremony, may have contributed to the Wildkits’ lack of focus.
But the Wolves, who fell to 4-17 overall and 2-7 in Central Suburban League South play, certainly played their part. In fact, Evanston head coach Elliot Whitefield said the visitors from Skokie actually deserved to win.
One of the key performers for Niles West was sophomore Julia Easter. The 5-foot-10 forward finished with 12 points, including a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter and overtime combined, and seven rebounds.
For much of the contest, Easter was matched up against likely Division I-bound Evanston center Alecia Cooley, who scored just eight points on 4-for-14 shooting. Cooley had nine rebounds as well.
“For a sophomore, (Julia) is really growing into the part of a varsity basketball player,” Niles West head coach Tony Konsewicz said. “She’s got to play the Cooleys of the world, girls who are seniors. This is baptism under fire. (Easter) is really learning how to use her body defensively, and how to use her speed and quickness. She’ll only get quicker and stronger.”
Last week’s contest between Evanston and Niles West was a far cry from the first meeting of the season between the teams, when the Wildkits won 51-25 on Dec. 14.
Easter termed the rematch with the Wildkits as one of her better performances, and said the game of basketball is slowing down for her. That represents a change from the beginning of the season, when Easter said she was so overwhelmed she had trouble breathing.
Still, Easter said there are times when she gets so caught up in the game or the opponent that she loses focus.
“I’m a young player and sometimes have mental lapses,” she said. “I have to work on that during the offseason and season.”
Older teammates said they have been pleased with Easter’s progress.
“Being a young player, she’s picked up good habits,” senior guard Molly Kleppin said. “She works hard in practice every day. She really helped us (against Evanston). She hit some huge shots and played some tough defense on posts who are much bigger than her. I’m really proud of her.”