Megastar Loyd back for final Niles West go-roundPark Ridge, Il. 02/24/11 The Wolves of Niles West battle the Hawks of Maine South in the 4a sectional. Dashae Shumate 13 and Jacqui Grant 34 collide going for the loose ball. | Joe Cyganowski~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 13, 2011 12:02PM
Niles West is blessed with megastar Jewell Loyd, one of the top four seniors in the country, and two other talented returning starters.
What the Wolves don’t have is anyone taller than 5-foot-10, which provides no solace to opponents already fretting about trying to stop the unstoppable Loyd in her fourth season.
The spellbinding 5-10 combo guard was set to sign her official letter of intent this week to attend the University of Notre Dame after announcing her decision in April. Loyd led last year’s young Niles West team to a 22-9 record (7-3, 2nd CSL South) and a trip to an IHSA Class 4A sectional final. An overtime loss to CSL South champion Maine South prevented a second straight Elite Eight appearance.
As a sophomore, Loyd spearheaded a veteran squad to a 27-6 record and a share of Niles West’s first conference title since 1985. That season ended with a hard-fought supersectional loss to Fenwick. Ranked by ESPN as Illinois’ best player and No. 4 in the nation among the 2012 class, Loyd will seek her third straight first-team all-state berth and fourth all-CSL selection.
After averaging 23 points per game two years ago, the affable Loyd compiled nearly unfathomable statistics last winter. She averaged 30.1 points on 53 percent field-goal shooting, 15 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 4.5 steals and 3.2 blocks. Loyd scored 40 or more points five times, including a career-high 46 against St. Francis. She enters this season with 2,241 career points and likely will reach 3,000 well before the state playoffs begin.
“She does all that while being double- or triple-teamed every single game, and she’s a great floor leader,” said Niles West head coach Tony Konsewicz. “Every year I scratch my head and ask how much better can she get. She was also our homecoming queen, so she’s loved by everyone as not just Jewell Loyd the basketball player but Jewell Loyd the classmate and person.”
High-character marks also go to returning starter Molly Kleppin, a 5-8 defender supreme and three-sport standout. She will be counted on to improve her six points per game on the offensive end. Though just a junior, Kleppin will take on co-captain duties with Loyd.
“Molly has embraced the role. She is right up there with her sister (former star Kelly) in terms of both character and intensity,“ said Konsewicz. “She is an all-hustle kid — a tremendous defender — and had a great summer.”
The very athletic Dashae Shumate, a 5-8 sophomore, should blossom after averaging an uneven seven points and seven rebounds as a freshman regular thrown into the fire.
“She had some big games for us, but we want to see consistency on both ends this year,” Konsewicz said. “Dashae is dynamic, quick and has an incredible wingspan.”
Out of necessity, Konsewicz plays four guards. One who graduated last June was Nicole Moy, an all-conference selection. Helping to fill the void will be 5-6 sophomore Alex Galanopoulos. A reserve last year, she gained confidence with a stellar performance in a win at Evanston. Galanopolous then turned heads this summer by consistently attacking the basket.
Three 5-9 players are vying for the big role. Senior softball whiz Lexi Leftakes is a cerebral player with an instinctive court sense and a deft lefty touch. She got occasional minutes off the bench last year. So did senior Jackie Cardenas, a strong defender who’s working on her post moves. Junior Jasmine Townsend reported in outstanding physical condition after an encouraging summer in which she showed the ability to score from short range.
A pair of 5-6 seniors furnish depth. High-energy Janet Iqal, who has varsity experience, is a steady defender who’s not afraid to mix it up underneath. Liz Troyk is a skilled spot-up shooter from the outside. Freshman Katherine DeLara stands only 5-0, but she’s a glue-fingered dribbler with either hand who has impressed Konsewicz in summer camps since she was in fifth grade.
“We’ll have quickness and the ability to pressure teams,” said the Wolves coach. “We’ll need to do everything well to make up for our lack of height. Our goals are to win conference and our regional and make it Downstate.”
In conference, Niles West will be hard-pressed to dethrone preseason favorite Maine South, which won all three head-to-head meetings last season. Evanston appears dramatically improved, and New Trier and Glenbrook South are always competitive.
The Wolves’ season gets interesting right out of the chute when they open at home against Hersey at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15. In last year’s season opener, the host Huskies — and Megan Rogowski, who’s now at DePaul — withstood a jaw-dropping, 45-point show from Loyd for a 66-56 win.