NORMAL – In the world of high school basketball, going into an opponent’s gym can be a challenge for the team coming in. But on Feb. 20, Normal Community West’s girls’ team were still the visitors, but the opponents were New Lenox, Ill.-based Lincoln-Way West High School, ranked 4th in the State. Despite being seeded fourth prior to the start of the contest, the Wildcats fought hard only to fall to the Warriors, 70-54, as roughly 2,200 fans crowded into NCHS’ main gym for the contest.

While senior guard Olivia Demosthenes scored the game’s opening points for Normal West (21-8), putting her team up, 2-0, the Warriors countered quickly with three unanswered baskets – one from sophomore forward Brianna Woolridge followed by two from senior guard Taylor Gugliuzza, putting that team up quickly, 6-2, with 5:58 left in the quarter. Sophomore guard Megan Williams hit West’s next basket, reducing their opponent’s lead to 6-4 with 4:35 remaining. Williams, having been fouled by Warriors senior guard Sydney Swanberg added a pair of free throws to trim the Warriors’ lead to two, 8-6, with 3:58 left in the quarter.

Taylor Gugliuzza’s next basket in the quarter put the Warriors up, 10-8, but was followed by back-to-back countering baskets for West by Demosthenes which pushed West in front, 12-10, with 1:06 remaining. Woolridge tied the game at 12-all for Lincoln-Way West and Normal West quickly responded thanks to a bucket from senior forward Rosh Webb, putting the Wildcats in front, 14-12, going into the second quarter.

The second quarter began with an exchange of treys from freshman Warriors guard Ava Gugliuzza and West’s Webb, but the Warriors pulled out to a 24-16 advantage halfway through the quarter. But as the quarter continued, the Wildcats held off the Warriors by just one going into halftime, 28-27.

But as the third quarter began, Lincoln-Way West (28-3) went on a 7-0 run which featured a basket and free throw, and another basket from Woolridge, and a basket from Taylor Gugliuzza, pushing the Warriors up, 34-28, and prompting Normal West head coach Corey Ostling to call time at the 5:47 mark. Following the timeout, senior forward Rosh Webb hit a deuce at the 5:41 mark reducing the Warriors lead to four, 34-30. Swanberg countered with a trey putting the Warriors in front, 37-30 with 4:36 remaining in the quarter.

Another Swanberg three would push the Warriors up by seven, 40-33, with 4:36 remaining in the quarter, and would extend it 44-35 before a pair of Demosthenes free throws reduced Lincoln-Way West’s lead to seven, 44-37, with 1:52 left in the quarter. Woolridge’s next basket came as she was fouled by Normal West, but she missed the shot for the third point, but the Warriors still owned a nine point lead, 46-37, until Woolridge hit a quarter-closing trey, reducing the Warriors lead going into the fourth quarter to 46-40.

For the second straight quarter, Swanberg would hit a trey to lengthen the Warriors lead, 49-40, as the fourth quarter began. That prompted Ostling to call time to help the Wildcats regroup. Coming out of the timeout, Warriors junior guard Tara Gugliuzza, having been fouled by West’s Megan Williams, missed her free throws, but Williams’ teammate, Demosthenes, having been fouled, sank one of a pair of free throws, cutting the Warriors’ lead to eight, 49-41, with 5:41 remaining in the contest. A Tara Gugliuzza basket put the Warriors up by 10, 51-41 and a pair of free throws by Ava Gugliuzza pushed the Warriors up, 53-41. Demosthenes’ next basket reduced that lead to 10, 53-43, before two foul calls against Normal West and one against the Warriors led to a battle of free throws, resulting in Taylor Gugliuzza and Swanberg going a combined 3-of-4 for the Warriors, and Demosthenes going 2-for-2, with the Warriors leading 56-45.

Demosthenes’ next basket at 3:24 in the quarter reduced the Warriors’ lead, 56-47 but Taylor Gugliuzza hit a deuce and was fouled leading to a three-point play, putting the Warriors up, 59-47. A trey by Demosthenes followed by two free throws by the 5 foot-5 senior helped West reduce the Warriors’ lead to seven, 59-52, before West players fouled all three Gugliuzzas in order. The end result of that was Tara Gugliuzza, Ava Gugliuzza, and Taylor Gugliuzza, in order being fouled and going a combined 3-for-6 and the Warriors owning a 62-52 lead, prompting Normal West to call time with 1:24 left in the contest.

Coming out of the time out, having been fouled by West sophomore guard Carlie Boitnott, Tara Gugliuzza hit two free throws with 1:04 left followed by a basket from Taylor Gugliuzza, putting the Warriors up, 66-54, with 40.1 seconds remaining and prompting the Wildcats to call time, but when the game resumed, Taylor Gugliuzza closed out the contest by adding four more points resulting in the final score.

Taylor Gugliuzza and Woolridge led the Warriors’ scoring with 26 points and 24 points respectfully. Demosthenes was Normal West’s top scorer with 15 points, followed in double figures by Williams with 13, and 10 apiece from Rosh Webb and Miya Webb.

Lincoln-Way West head coach Ryan White admitted West forced his team to switch defenses from zone to man-to-man, which, he admitted, his team normally does not do. “West was beating us with zone, so we had to switch it up a little bit. We’re usually not a great man team, but I thought we did a pretty good job of handling it. At the half, we were only down by one, and I felt if we were to bear down defensively, we would be in great shape.”

White said even though his team was victorious, he and his girls were aware each game at this point gets a little harder and that Normal West “put a scare into us.”

“The fact that Normal West held us to 27 points and didn’t allow us to score any threes in the first half says they did a great job,” he said, adding his team took the approach of not forcing plays into happening helped them in the second half.

Despite being eliminated from making it to State, Ostling said afterward, “I was proud of what our girls did tonight. I just thought our girls kept competing the whole way through and we played Normal West basketball. We didn’t get caught up into what they do. We paid more attention on what we do.

“From the get-go, the girls said they were going to be fearless in this game, and they did that,” Ostling said. “They didn’t bat an eye and they were laser focused on the game plan, and I’m proud of them.”

Looking back on the season overall, Ostling, wrapping up his fifth season as head coach, said the team has nothing to be discouraged about, adding he thought it was one of the best seasons the school has ever had. He reminded the team has made it into the regionals for the last three years.

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