The job had been hard — fought by some of them over the course of four or five long years — and when it was finally accomplished, all the emotion poured out.
They hugged each other and spun giddy in circles at midcourt, bouncing in exuberant celebration — teammates and sisters and teammates who had become like sisters.
Next to the home bench, two longtime coaching partners embraced. The goal that had been tantalizingly out of reach was finally at hand.
Morgan Park Academy’s varsity girls are regional basketball champions once more — for the seventh time in the past 13 years, but the first time since 2014.
Thursday night at home, the Warriors outlasted regional rival Illinois Lutheran, 44-34, on the strength of a career-high 20 points from senior shooting guard Samaria Harris and a wire-to-wire, five-on-a-string defensive and rebounding effort.
Facing a veteran Chargers squad with plenty of height, MPA (22-6) got fiery defensive performances and ice-in-her-veins shooting from Harris, point guard Shamariah White, and forwards Rachel Sheppard, Sheridan Harris, and Kaitlyn Mullings.
Buoyed by a home crowd, the Warriors led from the opening tip and held the visitors at arm’s length down the stretch, thanks to 10-of-13 foul shooting in the fourth quarter by White and the Harris sisters.
MPA will play in the sectional semifinals at Collins Academy (1313 S. Sacramento) next Tuesday (Feb. 18), tipping off against Chicago Hope at 7:30 p.m.
Coached by Tom Drahozal, Francie Kozacik, and Erica Askew, the Warriors have a .687 winning percentage since 2009, including a program-best run of 20-plus victories in each of the past three seasons.
Yet after winning regional championships in six of seven seasons from 2008-2014, the team had fallen short in each of the past five years — at times agonizing so — despite several outstanding seasons.
In each of the past two seasons, the Warriors had lost in the regional final, ending in disappointment a pair of twin seasons that featured what was then a program record 21 wins and historic scoring performances by Isis Rodriguez and Amaya McLachlan, who graduated as the program’s top two career scorers.
Thursday night played out differently, starting with the regional 3-point shooting contest, in which Mullings and Samaria Harris survived a shootout to earn two of the region’s four bids to next week’s sectional shooting competition.
Harris, often a complementary scorer alongside Mullings and her sister, Sheridan, kept firing once the game started — and soon, her usual reserve had given way to a joyous celebration.
The job had been hard, but it was done. Gloriously so.
Next week: another mountain to climb.