NORMAL – It didn’t take long for Breese Mater Dei’s Alyssa Koerkenmeier to make her 6-foot-5 presence known in Saturday’s 2A championship game against Byron.
From the opening tip-off, Byron struggled with Mater Dei’s overall height advantage – especially Koerkenmeier’s.
“I couldn’t figure out any answers for their big girl”, said Byron coach Eric Yerly. “Our kids fought all the time and never gave up.”
Koerkenmeier, a sophomore, had a triple-double with 23 points, 14 rebounds and 10 blocks to lead the way in Mater Dei’s 62-46 win.
Mater Dei (21-7), whose starting lineup included another 6-foot sophomore in Maris Zurliene and a 5-11 senior in Julia Korte, outrebounded the Tigers 43-32, set an IHSA single-game state tournament record with 15 blocked shots, and shot 55% on the night, including 44% from behind the 3-point arc.
Byron (34-3) shot 27% from the field, with Koerkenmeier clearly affecting shots in the paint with her long reach.
“You have to give her credit,” said 5-10 Byron senior Ava Kultgen, when asked how Koerkenmeier impacted Byron’s game. “She did a really nice job inside. We just tried to keep fighting.”
“Her height was a huge advantage,” added Ella Grundstom, the Tigers’ 5-10 senior. “We did our best, but we came up short.”
The Knights never trailed in the game.
Koerkenmeier, Zurliene and Korte combined for six blocks in the first half, while Koerkenmeier dropped in 16 points.
Koerkenmeier gave the Knights a 22-8 lead in the second period before Macy Groharing, one of Byron’s two freshmen in the regular rotation, sank a 3 to close the gap to 11.
But Mater Dei answered with a 3 of its own to bring the lead back to a dozen.
On the next possessions, Grundstrom scored and Kultgen dug out a rebound to find Groharing on the perimeter, and she drained another 3 to make it 25-16.
But it was Koerkenmeier again scoring for Mater Dei with a bucket and a free throw to make it 28-16 with 1:42 left in the half.
Byron freshman Malia Morton snatched a big offensive rebound for Byron and Kultgen hit a jumper just outside the lane.
Grundstrom then scored off an assist from Groharing to cut the deficit to seven, but Koerkenmeier answered again to bring it back to nine, 30-21.
But this time Byron’s Brynn Green hit a 3 with 12 seconds left to make it 30-24 at halftime.
In addition to her 16 points in the first half, Koerkenmeier snatched nine rebounds.
In the second half, Mater Dei’s Amelia Beer, a 5-10 freshman, scored back-to-back baskets before Groharing found sophomore Karsyn Bielskis on the break to bring Byron within 34-26, but Beer answered again to bring the Knights’ lead back to 10, 36-26.
After a basket by Kultgen and an answer from Mater Dei, Groharing drained a 3 to cut the deficit to eight, 39-31, with 4:31 left in the quarter.
But Beer and Koerkenmeier scored again for Mater Dei, and then Koerkenmeier followed up with another block after Zurliene hit a 3 and it was 46-32 with two minutes left in the quarter.
Kultgen made Byron’s last bucket of the third after a Mater Dei free throw for a 47-34 score with one period left to play.
Mater Dei added to its lead in the fourth quarter, with Koerkenmeier making it 54-36 at the 4:37 mark.
Kultgen finally got a foul call go her way and she hit two free throws to make it 54-38 with 4:25 left to play, but Mater Dei answered with a two free throws of its own before Groharing hit another 3 to make it 56-41 with 3:55 left.
Bielskis scored to make it 56-44, and Grundstrom blocked a shot by Koerkenmeier on the defensive end. Bielskis made two free throws to cut the deficit to 10, 56-46, with 2:41 left.
But Koerkenmeier blocked another shot and Mater Dei scored at the other end to halt Byron’s comeback.
Groharing led Byron in scoring with 14 points, which included four 3s, and she also had four steals, two rebounds and two assists. Kultgen had 12 points and six rebounds, Karsyn Bielskis added 10 points and two assists, and Grundstrom finished with seven points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Morton chipped in six rebounds and three assists for the Tigers.
Beer was second in scoring for Mater Dei with 13 points, and she also had eight rebounds and seven assists. Korte had 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks, Zurliene finished with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks, and Avery Trame chipped in six points and three rebounds for the Knights. Koerkenmeier also dished a pair of assists.
The second-place finish for Byron follows 2A state titles in 2016 and 2017 with Yerly as the Tigers’ coach.
“The score on the scoreboard is secondary,” said Yerly, praising his team’s effort this year. “These kids know that we love them and they love us. And when that happens, it’s special.”