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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Kankakee caps a perfect 30-0 season

February 10, 2019

As the buzzer sounded on Thursday’s game and Kankakee had beaten Crete-Monee 72-59, it signified more than just any normal victory.

It symbolized that the Kays, who set lofty expectations from themselves before the season started, accomplished the improbable.

30 teams tried them, and 30 teams failed. They ran the table and left a pile of destruction behind them. The 2018-19 Kays achieved perfection.

“To sum everything in one word: remarkable,” Kankakee coach John Maniatis said. “The things they’ve been able to accomplish on a day in, day out basis is unreal. They’ve stacked practice after practice and they love to complete. They’ve put in the time, effort, energy and they’re relishing in the moment.”

Keep in mind, this was a program that just three years ago won three games, and then six games the next year.

“Going from just three wins a few years ago to winning this much is great,” senior guard Jennifer Sotello said. “We have great team chemistry. Everybody plays their own role and contributes to the team whether its practice or a game. This season truly means a lot.”

Don’t be fooled, the road to perfection hasn’t been the easiest. Although you wouldn’t know it by how badly they’ve ran through some of their opponents with 36.6 point margin of victory.

The Kays came into the season donning the phrase “Reach Higher”, and it all started back on February 27, 2018.

That day started this chapter for Kankakee after the Kays got a first-hand experience at what a state champion looks like when Peoria Richwoods, the eventual 3A State Champion, ended their Cinderella season the night before 61-36.

From that point, they’ve been on a mission to destroy anyone and everyone in their path.

“We’ve been coming at heads all season,” senior forward Tabetha Jones said. “Everyone who walked over us in my first two years were targets this year. We put our foot down. We weren’t going to allow them to disrespect Kankakee like that anymore.”

With most of their core players returning, the Kays already had a good idea what what to expect this season. Then the transfers of Ambranette Storr and Imani Williams changed the entire landscape and outlook of the team.

“Ambranette is clutch, simple as that,” Maniatis said. “When we need a go-to basket, it’s her. She’s in the position that other kids found themselves in last season and she’s been excellent.”

“Imani has an unbelievable drive and hunger about her,” Maniatis said. “She wants to be successful and win. From a scoring standpoint, she may not wow you but everything else is there. She does anything and everything to help us win, whether its a hustle play, offensive rebound, she’s all over it.”

It started in the Richards Tournament where they won every game by 19 points or more, including two games by 60 points or more.

Then came the Oak Lawn Tournament where the destruction continued with four wins and a pair of 20 points victory.

They made IHSA history by becoming the first team ever to win 20 games before January 1 after winning the Peotone Holiday Tournament.

“We used to be on the other side and winning only three games so I can’t say I feel bad for our opponents because they used to do it to us,” Sotello said.

While the IHSA history is the icing on the cake, the cake itself is all of the school records they’ve set this year.

They’ve won All-City for the first time in 22 years, broken school records for most wins in a season (30), points in a game (97) and points in a season (2,219).

Needless to say, this is the greatest team in Kankakee history.

“I’ve said it to everyone who will listen, this is the best team I’ve had in 22 years of coaching,” Maniatis said. “My past team shave been cracking on me all year and saying ‘We’d take them on right now’. I tell them they’d lose and they don’t want to believe me. Then they’ll finally watch them play and realize these girls can really play.”

Of course, none of this comes without sacrifice. From the coaches and players, namely who plays what role. But it’s all worked out masterfully.

“It’s been great watching how everyone blinds together,” Jones said. “I’ve been playing with every senior since seventh grade and to see the growth and maturation is great. We’re a wild group of girls and to see how we all welcomed Imani and Ambranette along with the freshmen and sophomores is amazing.”

As crazy as it sounds, going undefeated in the regular season was the easy part. Now comes the hardest part of the season; remaining undefeated.

It all starts on Tuesday in a Class 3A Ottawa Regional with either Morris or Coal City, who the Kays beat 88-26 on February 1.

Either way, it’s a new season and everyone is 0-0. There’s seven games now between them and a state championship. Anything is possible.

But one thing is for certain. The Kays are ready for the spotlight.

“No matter what stage of the tournament you’re in, there’s always that game where you don’t shoot very well,” Maniatis said. “And that’s where you hang your hat on defense. We’re fortunate to have defensive stalwarts like Tabetha, Avery Jackson, Imani Williams and Tamia Wilburn. There’s going to be key moments where unexpected players step up, and I’m excited to see who that player is going to be.”

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