Claire Jakaitis logged nine minutes in two games during Montini’s trip downstate to the IHSA Class 3A girls basketball final four last season.
On Wednesday, she started and starred throughout her St. Charles North postseason debut. The increased workload and 23-point outburst weren’t the only things invigorating her.
“I like it a lot, how we play defense now,” Jakaitis said. “We used to play zone last year, so now I get to play man. I like it a lot. You get more involved.”
North and crosstown rival St. Charles East certainly share a disposition for defense entering tonight’s Class 4A St. Charles North Regional final.
Whatever side claims the 2014-15 rubber match – the North Stars (19-8) and Saints (20-7) both won on their home floors in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play – it’s likely the victor will have the sweat equity to show for it.
“Of course,” Saints sophomore guard Samantha Munroe said. “I think our motto is, ‘Defense wins games.’ That’s what our focus really has been on.”
East coach Lori Drumtra reiterated the need for that drive to players after the Saints sloshed through a five-game skid bridging the end of December and first half of January.
One of those defeats came at North, a 61-43 winner when the teams met Jan. 17.
“Our team effort wasn’t really there,” Saints senior wing Kyra Washington said. “I’m hoping that this time that we play them, it’s there. And I hope we win.”
That last part is a given, of course, not unlike North’s commitment to creating havoc with the defensive basics.
With coach Sean Masoncup dialing up the North Stars’ man-to-man base defense and an athletic press, North limited Glenbard East to 20 percent shooting in the first half of Wednesday’s regional semifinal, a 53-20 romp.
“We try to talk about keeping our hands up and make sure that we’re always in a stance and moving our feet,” junior forward Morgan Rosencrants said. “And having a strong help-side. Knowing that we have that strong help-side helps us be able to pressure more and rely on others.”
Just over a month ago, that formula stood up against East.
“We just pushed the ball and then we made sure that we got back on defense, because we know they’re strong shooters and they have a strong post player,” Rosencrants said.
East enters tonight on a nine-game winning streak, with none of those victories coming by less than 11 points.
No question, defeating the North Stars on their own floor would sweeten the feat of earning a regional title, especially given what happened in the teams’ most recent meeting.
“We switched it around a little bit. So did [Masoncup]. They switched it around. They pressed,” Drumtra said. “I don’t think there’s really any secrets that you can really pull out. We know each other so well. I think it’s going to come down to really good execution and good decision-making.”