CALUMET CITY | If you would have given T.F. North girls basketball two wins at the beginning of the season, coach Tim Zasada and his team gladly would have accepted them.
The Meteors had two Division I players in Schenia Battle (Alabama-Birmingham) and Sabrina Montgomery (Morgan State) returning, but the numbers were small and there was not much experience. Throw in a tough schedule and the Meteors moving to Class 4A, and it could have been a long season.
Instead it has been a season to remember.
In January, Zasada accepted the Reavis football coach position, making this his seventh and final season at the program he built into a south suburban power. The Meteors shocked Class 3A No. 1 Hillcrest and headed into Thursday's regular-season finale against Lemont 19-7 and 12-0 in the South Suburban Blue. They won the conference. They also got two wins when Rich Central had to forfeit its wins after letting a transfer play before the IHSA approved the move. North lost to the Olympians twice.
Losing has not been accepted in this program, and while the Meteors stumbled early, Montgomery said they learned quickly.
"I think we started realizing our roles and we just knew we had to play and come together as a team," Montgomery said. "Everybody said we would be down, but we took it as a challenge."
Battle said Zasada would not give in and pushed them to get better.
"Coach 'Z' encouraged us and every day at practice he kept telling us we were going to get better," Battle said. "He never doubted us and we never doubted him.
"He told us to keep working, but he also said when you go out on the court, you have to start winning."
Zasada said he knew if they kept working, they would come around. The expectations are high for a programs which has won four regionals since 2008, including a Class 4A one in 2009.
"The seniors stepped up and I think the younger kids followed their leadership," Zasada said. "We took some lumps early with Marist, Rich Central, Homewood-Flossmoor, but I think it made us realize how much we had to improve. Players started realizing their roles and we developed some depth, though we don't have a big bench."
Montgomery said she and Battle knew they had to go out and show by example.
"My job is to get rebounds, so I had to make sure I did and show the other kids that everyone can rebound," Montgomery said. "We are a team and I think everyone does a little extra, and we know that is one reason we have had success."
The Meteors will play Andrew in their regional game at the Marist Regional, in which the host RedHawks are the favorite.
"It gets kind of frustrating getting bounced back and forth not knowing each year what class you will be placed in. However, our girls know we will compete with anyone regardless of what class we are in," Zasada said. "With that said, we are excited to be back in 4A and really look to represent our conference, school, and community at Marist next Tuesday."