1998 Women's Basketball Team (2011)
It was a team burdened by great expectations, and the pressure was intense. The state trophy of 1997 was safely ensconced behind glass, a source of pride and pleasure, but also of promise. Most of the players who had made that run to the top of the mountain were back. Hope had now become presumption, and not a single game had yet been played. The 1998 WomenÕs Basketball TeamÑranked number one in Illinois by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, and number three in the nation by USA TodayÑnever wavered in the face of this crucible of pressure. The team never flinched. There would be no failure of nerve. Nor would this Rambler team, graced with four future Division I players, succumb to self-destruction through selfishness and a clash of egos. This Loyola team subordinated all personal agendas to the common good, to the overarching goal to which each had committedÑwin another state title, and win it as sisters. This team of extraordinary athletes liked each other. They got along. They wanted to grab hold of another crown, and they wanted to wear it together. At the helm was their leader, Head Coach Tanya Johnson, a tough taskmaster and a brilliant strategist, who loved these girls enough to push them every day. At her side were Coach Mary Just, Coach Kerry Durham, and Coach Kathy Leyden-Brown, and together, this Rambler staff provided the leadership necessary to keep the teamÕs eyes on the prize. The leader on the courtÑthe finest captain Tanya Johnson has ever coachedÑwas the lone senior starter, Jeannette Paukert. With her blend of steely-eyed focus and playful wit, she kept her team simultaneously on task and at ease. She was the coach on the floor, the big sister to the four juniors at her side. Her mates in the backcourt were Katie Murphy and an All-State playmaker, Laura Sobieszczyk. In the frontcourt stood another All-Stater, center Olga Gvozdenovic, and rebounding and defensive master, Elizabeth Fletcher. Together, they formed one of the greatest one-two-punches ever to work the paint in Illinois prep basketball. First off the bench playing significant minutes were Nell Murphy and Christine Switski. Meg Jones, Liz LaFranco, Amy Heller, Kristen Toren, Kelly Chiczewski, and Lisa Bruno all chipped in when called upon. The 1998 Ramblers nearly ran the table, posting a 36-1 record while rolling to a second straight state crown. Undefeated against all Illinois teams (its lone blemish came in a three-point loss to an Indiana team), Loyola wove together a string of dominating performances, crushing all opposition as it made its way to the top of the mountain once again. In doing so, the 1998 WomenÕs Basketball Team cemented its place in Illinois Basketball history, taking it rightful place among the greatest ever to hoist the big prize.