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Neuqua Valley’s Norkus pushes game to new level

Like an old-fashioned bicycle, Neuqua Valley junior Kylee Norkus has only one speed.

She races up and down the court like she’s driving a Ferrari on the interstate.

It’s thrilling to watch, although there are times when Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams wishes she would slow down.

“You know, sometimes you’re trying to get players to hustle and go 100%,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “She goes 100 miles an hour, and now you’re saying, ‘Sometimes don’t go, try to set it up a little bit and go 80.’

“But that’s a good thing to have.”

Indeed, the Wildcats are starting to enjoy life in the fast lane as Norkus has revved up their game in recent weeks. The versatile 5-foot-11 guard/forward is averaging 16.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals since missing the first three games of the season with a broken finger.

Norkus is averaging 22.0 points over the past four games, starting with a career-high 28 points against Trinity on Dec. 30, playing with a relentless drive.

“It’s definitely rooted from my injury because now it’s just a matter of playing hard every game,” she said. “I’ve always said you never know when it’s your last game, and I really take that to heart now.”

Norkus turned in another great effort Monday, when she led all players with 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with three steals and two assists as the host Wildcats rolled past West Aurora 67-50 in a nonconference game in Naperville.

It was the third straight victory for Neuqua Valley (12-8), which had ended a busy December with a three-game losing streak.

“Kylee has turned it up to a different level since coming in with some focus and intensity and that not-going-to-lose kind of attitude,” Williams said. “She’s doing everything.”

Indeed, Norkus has shown the ability to score at all three levels while ripping down rebounds at both ends and picking opponents’ pockets, and she does it from the get-go.

“She’s always coming out with that energy,” Neuqua Valley senior center Tia Poulakidas said. “She’s our energy booster, always that person that’s getting those hustle plays, and we need that. That’s what picks us up.”

Neuqua Valley's Caitlin Washington (11) puts up a shot against West Aurora during a nonconference game in Naperville on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

The Wildcats needed a pick-me-up after West Aurora (9-9) used a 20-9 run to grab a 28-24 lead late in the second quarter. Norkus provided it by putting back her own miss with 34 seconds left, and junior guard Caitlin Washington drained an 18-foot jumper at the buzzer to forge a 28-28 halftime tie.

Washington finished with 13 points, one shy of Poulakidas and junior point guard Zoe Navarro.

“When Caitlin has an off night, Kylee is on,” Williams said. “When Kylee is off night, Caitlin is on. When they’re both on, it’s scary. All of a sudden, I’m a good coach.”

They made Williams look like John Wooden in the third quarter. Norkus converted two more putbacks and Washington scored on two drives as the Wildcats opened up a 48-36 lead.

Poulakidas, who had nine rebounds and four steals, tallied 10 of her points during the quarter, often working a give-and-go with Norkus.

“We kind of read each other like a book,” Norkus said. “When I’m down low and she sees that cut, I pass it right to her. I’d say we’re a really good duo on the court, and when we have those good IQ plays, we’re unstoppable.”

Neuqua Valley's Kylee Norkus hits a 3-pointer against West Aurora during a nonconference game in Naperville on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

That’s how it was in the second half Monday, when Neuqua Valley scored 39 points on 18-for-27 shooting.

“We’ve done that before where I’m the one posting up and dumping her the ball,” Poulakidas said. “And she’s also able to post up and give me the ball to run off.

“Having that chemistry, especially when we play similar positions, is important because we don’t want to get in each other’s way.”

These days it’s hard for anybody to get in Norkus’ way.

“If I’m having an off day on offense, then defense is where I’m going to speed it up,” she said. “But I feel like this season I’ve been doing a good job offensively and defensively, keeping it up on both ends. That’s been my goal since the start of the season.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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