HIGHLAND | Alyssa Kikalos can admit it now.
She was not committed to returning for her senior season at Highland, and her absence from every spring and summer workout proved she was serious.
Then a week before tryouts, she changed her stance and told coach Tracie Mezera she was interested in playing basketball. Mezera told her it’s all out or all in, no more waffling.
Stay or go.
All parties involved are happy she stayed.
The leading scorer for the Trojans scored 14 points and buried three huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as Times No. 9 Highland beat No. 8 Hobart 59-55 to hand the Brickies their first loss in Northwest Crossroads Conference action.
“Coming back, it was the best decision of my life,” Kikalos said. “We’re successful, and we’re surprising everyone.”
The Trojans (9-5, 3-1) won their first five games and then played so-so for most of December. Friday’s game was the first for either team since Dec. 28, and the rash of snow days this week relegated both squads to one practice Thursday to prepare.
“This was a huge win,” Mezera said. “Coming in, we are looking at every conference game as the conference championship game from here on out.”
Kikalos, reinvigorated by the unselfish, enthusiastic team chemistry, didn’t need long to prepare mentally for the Brickies (9-4, 4-1).
“Hobart has been our biggest rival since we started playing AAU against them in fifth grade,” Kikalos said. “It’s always been a rivalry with them. I’m never more pumped up than when we play Hobart.”
The rivalry has favored Hobart in recent years as the Brickies had won the previous five meetings. Highland also finished December on a three-game skid.
The difference Friday was the ball movement that set up Kikalos and freshman Taylor Steele (game-high 21 points with five 3-pointers) among others, the fearless play of point guard Aleysha Slaven and the ability to withstand Hobart’s inevitable second-half run.
“We knew (a run) was coming, we know Graycie Roach is a great player, and we knew we had to buffer past it and survive it,” Mezera said.
With Steele hitting for 14 of her game-high 21 in the first half, Highland led 32-21 at the break. Slaven had 14 points, five assists and three steals in the game.
Hobart, however, outscored Highland 19-9 in the third quarter to cut the lead to 41-40 entering the fourth.
The Brickies threatened every time they touched the ball, but they never took a lead and broke through for complete control of the momentum.
Roach had 18 points and 12 rebounds, collecting 11 second-half points. Marissa Chabes had 12 points on four triples, and Zoe Wilson had 11 points for Hobart. Chabes’ 3-pointer with 28.4 seconds remaining cut the lead to 57-55, but Steele went to the line and hit two free throws with 21 seconds remaining and Hobart could not connect in the final seconds.
Twice when Hobart was within a possession, it was Kikalos doubling the lead from three to six with 3-pointers.
“I just tried to keep my composure and not get too crazy,” Kikalos said. “I had to tell myself, ‘OK, now play good D.’ It felt really nice though. I was able to provide the help we needed.”