OSWEGO – Oswego’s McKenna Engler got plenty of varsity experience last season as a freshman.
Most of it was of the losing variety as the Panthers won only three games.
That seems like a long time ago now to Engler and her teammates, who have turned around the program in stunning fashion.
Engler had one of the best games of her young career Thursday, scoring a team-high 12 points to lead Oswego to a 49-41 victory over Naperville North at the Oswego East Holiday Classic quarterfinals.
The Panthers (11-3) will play in the tournament semifinals for the first time when they take on Joliet Central on Friday.
“It’s crazy,” Engler said. “I think we knew we were going to be better but we didn’t think we were going to be crazy good this year.”
The Panthers are still young and relatively inexperienced. But despite having only three seniors on the junior-dominated roster, they are quickly gaining confidence.
The win over Naperville North (7-7) was their second in three tries against the Huskies, who won the first meeting 49-46 before the Panthers took the next two by identical scores.
“I’ve never felt like this,” Oswego junior Julia Henrikson said. “We worked really hard together over the summer, so we had confidence coming into the season. More than we did last season.”
That showed in the decisive third quarter. Engler, who combined with Henrikson to sink five of Oswego’s six 3-pointers, had given the Panthers a 22-19 halftime lead with her first 3-pointer.
But she really got going late in the third quarter as she scored her team’s final eight points of the period, including a pair of 3s, to extend Oswego’s cushion to 41-22. At one point in the second half, the Panthers sank eight consecutive shots.
“McKenna went on an 8-0 run,” Henrikson said. “It was amazing.
“She’s always going to shoot and she’s always been so talented. I respect her for that.”
Engler, who also had four rebounds, a steal and one assist, was thrilled with her performance.
“It was nice,” Engler said. “I haven’t felt that way in a while and I think I really needed it.
“It was a confidence-booster and a lot of fun. I helped out the team a lot and that’s what I want.”
Oswego coach John Carlson was pleased to see Engler’s hard work pay off.
“She’s been working on her game,” Carlson said. “She comes early sometimes, stays late and gets extra shots in, so I think that’s a big part [of her success].
“She needed a breakout game and she did a nice job today. She was under control all the time and it was nice seeing her have some success with it.”
Junior center Jenelle Rogers added 10 points and 12 rebounds and her sister Jenna hadded eight rebounds and four blocks, including three against Naperville North’s star sophomore, Greta Kampschroeder, who had 18 points and eight steals.
The 6-foot Kampschroeder, a major Division I recruit, was held scoreless and had only three shots in the third quarter.
“I think the first three minutes of the third quarter was the most important for us,” said Henrikson, who finished with eight points. “We came out strong. We all played really good together.”
The Panthers have been doing that on a more consistent basis lately.
“We’re playing whole games and I think that matters,” Carlson said. “Sometimes you get in the habit of playing a little bit of the game and then not being able to finish it. But we’re playing hard.”