“The only team that can hurt us is ourselves”: Girls basketball program celebrates 800 wins


Image courtesy of Ann Tarpey

On the night of Friday, Feb. 4, as the buzzer radiated throughout Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena, the ETHS girls basketball team erupted in cheers and sprinted onto the court to celebrate their 51-32 win against long standing rival, the New Trier Trevians. For the players, the electric win came with feelings of déjà vu. Just a week and a half earlier, the Kits had their first face off with the Trevians. After the game spilled into overtime, the Kits pulled ahead to win 44-37, securing the 800th program win for the ETHS girls basketball program. 

“It’s really exciting, because we’ve been trying to build support for the program, and I feel like we’ve done that,” head coach Brittanny Johnson reflects. “We want to continue to grow the game, and the only way you do that is by running a successful program. So to hit that number means this program is definitely going in the right direction.”

“Especially against our rival team, [the win] was a very good one for us,” agreed sophomore guard Zuri Ranson, smiling.

The milestone holds an even greater weight this year as the country commemorates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a 1972 national law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any federally funded school sport or activity. 

“I know this is a big year in regards to Title IX, so for us to be able to [hit 800] this year means that, from the start of women’s basketball becoming important, Evanston was on the forefront of that,” Johnson says. “I heard that back in the day, girls couldn’t play in Beardsley; they had to play in the upstairs gyms. And then you see where we are now. There’s still, obviously, things that [we] want to keep fighting for… We still want to progress and move forward as much as we can.”

As exciting as it is, the season highlight didn’t come without its struggles. In early December, a COVID-19 outbreak among the team shut the program down for almost 20 days. 

“Coming back [was] especially [challenging,] because we were out for two weeks and we [had] just come off a good game,” Ransom says. “[It] took us out of our flow a bit, so [it has been a challenge] just getting back to where we were before.”

Upon their return, the Kits won their first game back, but then fell into a four-game losing streak before regaining their footing. 

“[Coming back] was tough, just because [the break] was almost 20 days, so we had to get their cardio up. We actually went right into games, four games in a row, so they kind of just had to learn each other all over again [and] build that trust and that chemistry again,” Johnson says. “It took a while, but I think we’re finally back to where we were at that point in the beginning.”

The break did have some unfortunate impacts on the team’s standing, moving the Wildkits slightly off track from their original goal of first in conference. Instead, the Kits ended up coming in second, which according to Johnson, “is really not a disappointment. I don’t think anybody expected us to even do that, considering everything that we lost.”

 In addition to the COVID-19 shutdown, this is the Kits first full season since 2020, a year famed in the girls basketball program for its powerhouse, Division I seniors who were integral to the season’s success.  

“After Kayla [Henning’s senior] year, which was the year where there were three D1 starters on our team, people expected us to go downhill a lot. So just being able to maintain the competitiveness, and the high level of basketball that Evanston plays, without those super experienced players, [makes it] really important and special that we were able to get the 800th program win,” senior captain Maya Wallace says. 

Even without any college commits from this year’s graduating class, this season has been incredibly rewarding, with much of the success stemming from the team’s undoubtable chemistry. It’s obvious on the court, as the ball seamlessly makes its way from player to player until a shot materializes. It’s most palpable, though, in the way the players talk about and support each other, creating a culture of friendship and respect that’s hard to beat.  

“I’m actually just proud of how much [of] a team [they are], and how they hold each other accountable. They accept coaching, not only from me, but from their teammates, and that’s really the sign of a mature team,” Johnson says. “At this point of the season, I think your seniors kind of lead you and guide you, and we got a great group. They’re doing a good job with that.”

In addition to Wallace, seniors Maggie Farragher, Jordan Lodge, Ellie Oif and Lulu Ward have been crucial to the successful season. On Jan. 31, senior night for the Kits, it was obvious just how effective the senior class can be, with Oif racking up a team-high 16 points, Ward bagging a career-high 10 points and the Wildkits orchestrating a whopping 29 turnovers. But unlike in years past, the impressive group of seniors have no playoff experience under their belts.   

“Ellie [Oif] and Maggie [Farragher] were on the team that went to the Sectionals [in 2020], but they didn’t play… I think it’s going to make for a really cool playoff experience, because it’s the first time for everyone,” Johnson says. “To me, what really stands out is our lack of experience, but it’s also a good thing because we can use that to our advantage too: the moment may not be too big for them [to handle] because they don’t realize how big it is.”

On Feb.19, after battling through three quarters of a nail-biter against Glenbrook North, the Kits rose to the occasion, pulling ahead in the fourth to win the regional championship 45-34. Moving forward, the team is excited to continue showcasing what Evanston basketball is known for—a fast tempo and tough defense, according to Wallace. With a 19-9 record as of Feb. 19 and regional win in the rearview mirror, the Kits advance to sections with unyielding ambition. 

“Our belief in ourselves has to be more than our fear of making mistakes. So, I think if they continue to believe and have confidence, we can really achieve anything we set out to do this year. And we’ve shown that; we’ve competed against top teams in the state, we’ve played a tough schedule. My hope is that they just keep believing in themselves and we can take this as far as we can,” Johnson says. 

“I really feel like the only team that can hurt us is ourselves.”


Update: On Feb. 22, the Kits ended their season in a 41-43 loss to Maine South in the first game of sectionals. The game was tight, spilling into overtime after Oif hit a three pointer for a 41-41 tie at the end of the fourth. Ultimately, Maine South pulled ahead, ending a noteworthy season for the Evanson girls basketball program.