Mater Dei High School girls basketball coach Craig Zurliene was eager to talk about the secret to his team’s 62-46 Class 2A state championship victory over Byron on March 4 at Redbird Arena in Normal.
“This is the byproduct of the girls working together, being selfless and really embracing our motto which is ‘Only Jesus,’” he said following the game.
The state title is the first in the history of Lady Knights basketball. In fact, the team is the first in the program’s history to advance beyond the Elite Eight. The Lady Knights also tied the program’s record for most wins in a single season (27-7).
One image will stand out for those who watched the game: the image of Mater Dei player Madison Eversgerd comforting a distraught player on the Byron team. Coach Craig Zurliene described that moment during a reception at the high school gym the following day.
“If there is one thing I am really proudest of, it was that a reporter came up to me after the game and said, ‘I’ve listened to you guys talking in your press conferences, I was really impressed but I was kind of skeptical, I’ve heard this kind of thing before from religious schools.” But, the reporter said, what was really inspiring to him, what really sold him on Mater Dei and what helped him to realize what we were all about was that moment toward the end of the game when Madison Eversgerd was coming into the game, and at the same time there was one of the girls from the Byron team coming in and she was deeply distraught and crying, but Madison went over there and gave that girl a hug and comforted her. If there is anything that matters in this program it is that.”
The Lady Knights also made their mark in the history of the IHSA State Final Tournament. As a team, they recorded 15 blocks, the most blocked shots in a single game, regardless of class.
Individually, 6’ 5” sophomore Alyssa Koerkenmeier, recorded 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots in the championship game. Koerkenmeier now holds the record for most blocks in a single-game and is only the second player to record a triple double.
Zurliene, was helped this season by assistant coaches Bridget Winter and Terri Souder. Team members are seniors Madison Eversgerd, Alexis Kampwerth, Julia Korte, Carissa Litteken, and Cora Meyer; juniors Ryann Becker, Emma Eversgerd, Sam Muscarello, Avery Trame, and Madison Winkeler; sophomores Alyssa Koerkenmeier and Maris Zurliene; and freshmen Amelia Beer, Lily Butler, and Addison Ringwald. Managers are sophomores Nev Kramer and Aubrey Wilburn and freshman Marlee Loepker.
Mater Dei Principal Dennis Litteken recounted how Illinois High School Association Executive Director Craig Anderson told him that he’d never been around a group of individuals that showed their love and their caring for each other and for the people they played than when he saw the Mater Dei girls play.
Coach Zurliene echoed the principal’s words. “They embrace this concept of playing for Him and representing our love for Him by the way we play, the way we interact. Never worrying about what the score is, but more so how we may be affecting someone in a positive manner to where they can get to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. That is by far what is most important in this program. The win is great, but seeing how their relationship with Jesus has grown over the season, if there is anything I am proud of it is that for sure.”
Maria Zurliene, Director of Enrollment and Director of Alumni Relations, added, “The Lady Knights not only achieved athletic success, but also demonstrated a high-level of sportsmanship throughout their season, thereby serving as examples of how we can be the hands of Christ in a very competitive world.”