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For Montini's Johnson, this is her time
By Joshua Welge | Daily Herald Staff

Montini’s Malayna Johnson blocks a shot by St. Charles East’s Laney Deckrow Thursday at the Lady Saxon Tournament in Schaumburg.


John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/4/2013 11:24 PM

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Malayna Johnson hears her Montini teammates talk about basketball games they watch.

She marches to her own beat.

“I would rather paint my nails than watch the Bulls,” the Broncos senior said.

A girl who could be called a “late bloomer” on the basketball court, Johnson is one of the biggest reasons why No. 1 Montini is 28-1 after a 72-50 win over Fenwick Saturday.

She is averaging 8.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, more than double last year’s numbers in both categories, but her biggest impact might come on the defensive end. At 6-foot-4 with a 6-10 wingspan, Johnson has blocked 112 shots in the back of Montini’s suffocating matchup zone.

“That’s not even counting all the shots she’s altered,” Montini coach Jason Nichols said. “Our other defenders get beat, you still have to deal with 6-4.”

Always blessed with the height to play basketball, Johnson arrived late to the game.

Growing up, volleyball and ballet was more her thing. She caught the bug for basketball watching older sister Michala and Montini take third at state in 2008 but waited until the eighth grade to start.

Johnson played for Montini’s sophomore team as a freshman and backed up Tianna Brown the last two years. She did score 14 points in Montini’s supersectional win two years ago and 10 in the supersectional last year. With Brown graduated and Diamond Thompson transferring to Wheaton Warrenville South, Johnson knows it’s her time. She’s taking advantage with a more efficient offensive game, making 62 percent of her shots.

“I think it was just a matter of time,” Johnson said. “I always had someone to look up to before.”

“She had moments where she was good. Now she has more moments,” said Nichols, noting Johnson’s eight double-doubles. “A lot of kids want instant success. To her credit, and to her parents’ credit, they were patient and look what happened. It’s nice to see that development.”

Malayna, 2 inches taller than Michala, talks to her sister every other day and next year will join her at Wisconsin. Nichols called the two “as thick as thieves,” but they couldn’t be more different.

“Malayna is a very unassuming, soft-spoken, shy kid,” Nichols said. “If Michala was not into a game I’d bench her and chew her butt out. With Malayna that will not work.”

Malayna still has unfinished business at Montini but is already looking ahead to next year. She never has played with her sister before and already calls Madison her “favorite place to be.”

“I can’t wait to be there,” she said.

Waldron’s DePaul decision more than family:

Meghan Waldron, who committed to DePaul this week, was told that she and mom Jean Fitzpatrick-Waldron are the first daughter-mother duo to play for the Blue Demons. This is no “legacy” offer, though.

“They told me they’re not recruiting me because of my mom. They made that clear,” the WW South junior said. “I don’t want to go there because of my mom. I’m going to make my own impact.”

Waldron even said she forgets at times that her mom played for DePaul, but there’s no mistaking the school’s presence in the Waldron household. She owns a slew of DePaul shirts and has her mom’s old sweatshirts. Her mom’s jersey hangs in the Waldron house. Meghan has been to two Doug Bruno camps.

DePaul and Waldron’s second pick Northwestern both had the advantage of proximity. More than anything, DePaul’s style seemed to fit.

“They play faster, more up-tempo,” Waldron said. “(Wheaton Warrenville South) coach (Rob Kroehnke) thinks I have more fun when I’m playing fast.”

Lions seek elusive regional:

Dan Murray’s Lisle Lions are playing well of late — see their two wins last week, have played consistent ball throughout the season and are battle-tested.

But it’s February, and Murray knows well what that means.

“The state playoffs are a different beast — it’s win or you’re out,” Murray said. “I’ve been around long enough to know that crazy things happen this time of year.”

Lisle (22-5) opens up regional play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against regional host IC Catholic Prep (16-11), which Murray coached to a sectional final in 2010 before coming to Lisle. Navigating through regionals have been tricky for the Lions recently. Lisle has lost in a regional final for three years running to Westmont, which plays Walther Lutheran Tuesday night in the other regional semifinal.

Sectional matchups next week could be easier than getting two wins this week.

“How the four of us got thrown in the same regional is beyond me,” said Murray, “but that’s a conversation for another day.”

Up to this point, Lisle’s senior trio of Kelly Urban, Kristina Fernette and Skylar Tomko has buoyed the Lions to quite a season. Lisle went through the Interstate Eight Conference regular season a perfect 10-0 and is 1-point losses to Newark and Plano away from being champion at its Christmas tournament and the I-8 tourney.

Defense has been Lisle’s calling card, giving up south of 30 points a game. Expect a low-scoring game tonight. Suburban Christian Gold co-champ ICCP, led by Rory Manion, Brittney Reaber and Abby Radoha, allows right around 30 a game.

“The biggest thing for us is rebounding the basketball,” Murray said. “When we do a good job limiting teams to one shot our defense gets that much stronger.”

Wheaton vs. Wheaton, for all the marbles:

As rivalry games go, it won’t get much bigger than Thursday’s Wheaton North-Wheaton Warrenville South clash on the town’s south side.

WW South (24-3, 13-0 DuPage Valley Conference), which has already clinched a share of its third straight DVC title and ninth overall, can go unbeaten in conference for the first time since 1997 by beating the Falcons. On the flip side, a Wheaton North (19-6, 11-1) win against West Chicago Tuesday night and a win Thursday would mean the two schools would share the DVC crown for the first time ever.

The last team to go unbeaten in the DVC was Naperville Central in 2004 — Candace Parker’s senior year.

“When we won Saturday it didn’t really feel like we won conference. We’re not done yet,” Kroehnke said. “Deep down the kids would feel better if they could go undefeated in conference.”

WW South has won the last six meetings between the two Wheatons, the last a 57-42 rout Jan. 12 in a game that was decided early. That left Wheaton North a game back of WW South. Much has changed for both since then.

Wheaton North has ripped off six straight wins, perhaps playing its best basketball of the season. WW South will have Diamond Thompson and Kelly Langlas back healthy, but on the other hand it lost Sierra Bisso to a torn ACL since then.

There is also one other underlying theme to this game — it might not be the last time these teams meet. WW South and Wheaton North are seeded No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the Class 4A Bartlett sectional.

It’s no secret that the Falcons’ resurgence has coincided with a recommitment to defense.

“It was gut-check time after that Wheaton South game. The girls, they had to look in the mirror,” Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton said. “To be completely honest we haven’t even talked about that first game. I told the girls you can’t control what (WW South) does. They’ve done a good job of taking care of business and taking it one game at a time.”

Follow Josh on Twitter@jwelge96