HILLARY SMITH: Eagles ready for next season surprise

2014-02-09T21:00:00Z HILLARY SMITH: Eagles ready for next season surpriseHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
February 09, 2014 9:00 pm  • 

Before a game last week, a referee approached Lake Station girls basketball coach Kristy Hite-Balboa.

"He asked me what our record was," the coach said. "Then he said 'not to be mean, but I thought the paper made a mistake.'"

Nope, this is what's true: the Eagles are above .500 for the first time since the early '90s. The exact year of their last winning season is still unsure, as Internet records don't travel back that far and the Lake Station coaching staff could only find hard-copy records as far back as 1995.

"In 1997, they had eight wins, but even then, they weren't quite .500," Hite-Balboa said.

Hite-Balboa added she's not surprised people are surprised to see her team's record.

In her first season — 2009-10 — the Eagles were 4-16. That was an accomplishment, because it was the first time in five coaching staffs that they'd had more than two wins. That was Hite-Balboa's worst season.

The team has improved every year, with six-win seasons and five-win seasons. Understand, this is success for a team that isn't used to seeing it.

With a win against Whiting last week, the Eagles finished the Greater South Shore Conference season in fourth place, with a 5-3 record. Last season, Lake Station had five wins total.

"It's been a roller coaster season, but it has been fulfilling," said Hite-Balboa, whose team will enter the sectional with an 11-9 record. "To see these kids grow, to see them wanting success and wanting leadership and walking into the gym with confidence, that has been great. At first, that's what they lacked, that confidence.

"As a coach, I come to practice and smile. I'm still yelling at them, and I'm smiling. I tell them, 'you've grown so much.'"

When the Eagles graduate three seniors (including leading scorer Joanna Dwyer) at the end of the season, by no means is the cupboard bare.

Junior Desiree Parrillo is averaging a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds. Ashlinn Jorgensen is picking up 14 points per game.

The seniors aren't ready to graduate just yet.

First, there's the matter of a sectional win to take care of. Reaching the sectional final is the Eagles' biggest goal of the week.

To get there, they'll have to beat Bowman, a team Lake Station lost to by 18 points earlier in the season.

Lake Station, which has never won a sectional title, hasn't won a sectional game since the turn of the century.

That's 13 tries and an 0-13 record.

"These girls are really eager to win," Hite-Balboa said. "Part of our goal this week is to get to Saturday night. Now, how are we going to get there?"

The IHSAA postseason starts Tuesday and the Eagles play Wednesday.

They've surprised themselves, they've surprised their fans and they've surprised their opponents all season.

This shouldn't be a surprise: They could be a team to beat.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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