When things aren’t going Waubonsie Valley’s way, which hasn’t been the case often this season, dynamic sophomore guard Danyella Mporokoso steps right into the void to get things back on track.
That’s why coach Brett Love isn’t exactly nervous.
“Those are things we talk about,” Love said of Mporokoso. “When we’re not doing well, she can put the team on her back and take care of business offensively.”
After a slow start for the Warriors in Monday’s Oswego East Class 4A Regional semifinal game against Oswego, Mporokoso did exactly what Love expected.
She scored her team’s final 11 points in the first quarter, erasing a 10-point deficit for Waubonsie en route to a 67-43 victory. She ended up leading all scorers with 20 points.
Maya Cobb added 17 points and Arianna Garcia had 10 for the Warriors (28-3), who play Thursday at 7 p.m. for the regional title against Downers Grove South, who beat the host Wolves 45-37.
Emily Mengerink led Oswego (9-24) with 11 points. Kendall Grant added 10 points.
Mporokoso started his 11-point streak by grabbing a rebound to cut the deficit to 13-12. She then made four consecutive free throws to give the Warriors the lead for good.
After grabbing another rebound, Mporokoso then hit a three-quarter-court shot at the buzzer to give Waubonsie a 21-16 lead heading into the second quarter.
“It’s just a lot of energy from your teammates cheering you on,” Mporokoso said. “It’s really a lot of fun at that time.”
Mporokoso’s 3-point basket to end the first quarter gave the Warriors all the momentum they needed.
“It was pretty cool,” Mporokoso said. “It was my first shot made like that.”
Runs like that are what Love has come to expect not only over the past two seasons, but since he started working with Mporokoso in fifth grade.
“She has the guts to do this,” Love said. “She’s a player. She plays at a high level. That she can score us so many points and help us when we are in difficulty is great.
Oswego came out strong, however, opening the game with a 10-0 lead. Last season, the Panthers lost to the Warriors by 66 and 67 points in their two meetings.
“We weren’t scared,” Oswego coach Dave Lay said. “We weren’t intimidated. We showed our maturity and how much we have improved. We were proud of how we came out.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how we came out.”
Despite the slow start, Love didn’t call a timeout. He knew Waubonsie could get through this with Mporokoso’s help.
“We weren’t playing like we usually do,” Love said. “I thought over time they just needed to shake it off and figure it out themselves, and they did.
“I’m happy with it, but we can’t do that if we want to go further in the playoffs.”
Lay knew that Mporokoso was going to loom even after his team’s good start.
“She’s one of the best players in the state,” Lay said. “She shot that one from the other volleyball line like it was a free throw. She is incredibly special.
University interest in Mporokoso is also starting to become more widespread. Maryland was there on Monday.
“We always had this plan,” Love said. “We always aimed to play at this level. Now she’s at the point where it’s starting to pay off. I’m so proud of her.
Mporokoso said it’s exciting to receive this attention, even if she gets nervous.
“I don’t look into the stands,” Mporokoso said. “Before the match, I’m looking for where my mother is, but that’s it. It’s really cool. I am truly grateful to be in this position. I worked very hard for this.
“Everything is paid for.”
Paul Johnson is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.
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