By Jason Maholy
Oak Lawn coach Mark Sevedge and his staff encourage the Spartans’ players to shoot the trey.
And the girls are happy to oblige.
In a South Suburban Conference Red tilt against TF South on Feb. 17, Oak Lawn put up shots from long range early and often, staking themselves to a 20-3 first-quarter advantage en route to an impressive 58-34 victory.
The Spartans hit five 3s in the first quarter, and seven of their first nine successful field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. The finished the game with nine made 3s.
The emphasis on the 3-point shot is not unusual; it is the norm, as the offensive strategy at all levels of basketball — from the NBA down to the grammar school ranks — has shifted to an emphasis on long-range shooting. The mid-range shot is fading away as a higher-risk, low-reward proposition in favor of shots at the rim or from beyond the arc.
“Everybody has the mindset on offense that you want to get layups or threes,” Sevedge said. “We emphasize it and so far it’s worked. We have to keep getting better and keep shooting, and that’s one of the reasons I get out of practice so late.”
Sevedge said the girls can collectively hoist as many as 500 3-point shots in a single practice. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the limitations of being permitted only non-contact drills afforded them the opportunity to shoot more than they typically would.
“We’ll do certain things, shooting it from deep in practice, really encouraging them to expand their range, so if they’re open and they feel comfortable, they’ll take it,” he added. “They’ve put in the effort and committed to it, and have really worked hard, so we can take those threes.”
Senior shooting guard Cynthia Nunez is one of the team’s top sharpshooter from long range. Nunez hit three treys against TF South and finished with 15 points.
Junior guard/forward Mia Kennelly, the Spartans’ top all-around player, hit four 3s against the Rebels and finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Senior forward Carolyn Soukouna tallied 16 points and sophomore Kate Dillon continued her strong start to the season with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Sevedge said the first quarter, in which the Rebels did not hit a field goal until banking in a heave from the Spartan logo at the buzzer, was the Spartans’ best eight minutes of the season.
“We knew going in that [TF South] have a senior heavy team, so we knew they could be very tough,” he said, and noted Rebels seniors Toryn Parks, Lyndsey Hodges and Daija Powell were the primary concerns. “So we built the game plan around stopping them and starting fast offensively. We felt that if we could get on them and get a nice lead, we could maybe slow them down to the point where maybe it they’d become disinterested in the game.
“I felt we did that. We took them out of the game mentally and it helped is out.”
The Spartans have more to their game than just chucking up shots from beyond the arc. With nine of their 13 players being seniors, they’re a veteran group that shares the ball, plays tough defense and has noticeably good chemistry on the floor.
Oak Lawn entered this week 6-0 and has outscored its opponents 342-175. A 15-point win over Hillcrest on Feb. 15 was their narrowest margin of victory, thus far. Their dominant performances have included a 60-12 dismantling of TF North and 50-19 drubbing of Shepard.
Kennelly, who missed the majority of last season with an injury, is back to full strength and is wreaking havoc on both ends of the floor.
“She came back last season for the last three or four weeks of the season, but she was nowhere near 100%,” Sevedge said. “Now, she is.”
The coach touted Kennelly’s work ethic and dedication to getting healthy and, at the same time, raising her game.
“The way she works out, the way she gets in shape and runs, she’s put in so much work to get back to being herself, and it’s showing,” Sevedge said. “She’s playing outstanding right now and she’s been doing everything for us. She’s fun to watch.”