CHICAGO HEIGHTS | They've fought hard all year and are undefeated in 2013.
The Marian Catholic girls basketball team takes an 18-game winning streak into tonight's Class 4A semifinal against Whitney Young.
They're journey to the tourney didn't being in October, but last spring when the players made a decision. Instead of playing for several AAU teams, the Spartans stayed together and played for the Illinois Defenders.
"It was a big help because we needed to play together and get better," senior Megan Walsh said. "We really got to know each other and how we play on the court."
Walsh said there was more to it than Xs and Os.
"We developed that team bond -- chemistry, especially with the younger players" she said. "We didn't have that last year (2011-12) and we just go to know each other.
"It is one of the reasons we are going to state."
Junior Ashton Millender said she could see the improvement as the summer went on.
"We got to know our strengths and weaknesses and what we needed to do better," she said. "We really learned to play together, and I think it really did help us play better during the season."
Marian coach Annie Byrne said that showed the type of kids her team is made of.
"They were very unselfish in that they put the team ahead of themselves," Byrne said. "AAU gets ou a lot of exposure and they still got it with the Defenders, but they traded some of that for a bigger goal."
Marian (31-1) is making its trip to Normal since 2007 when the tourney was a two-class affair. Walsh said going to state is what they worked for. After the Spartans beat Peoria Richwoods in the Illinois Wesleyan Supersectional, Walsh said she texted some former Marian players.
"Jayme (Johnson), Simone Law and Jasmine Matthews and I told them 'We did it," Walsh said. 'They texted me back saying they knew we could and good luck at state. That was a special feeling."
As for playing Whitney Young, a team which beat Marian three straight times in a supersectional (2009, 2010, 2011), Walsh said it will be a tough game.
"Whitney Young is a very good team and we will have to play well," she said. "We are up to the challenge."