Three members of the Evanston High School girls’ basketball team recently received post-season honors for their efforts on the hardwood during the 2019-20 season.
Lady Devil senior Zocia Nowakowski led the charge for those recognized, earning 1st Team 4A West All-Conference and 2nd Team 4A All-State honors.
Fellow seniors Amber Lowe and Taryn Wagstaff were named to the 4A West All-Conference 2nd Team and Honorable Mention, respectively.
“All three of these girls are very deserving of the honor,” said EHS head coach Jeremy Fessler. “We wouldn’t have had the success we did without them.”
Nowakowski led the Lady Devils in scoring this season, averaging 11 points per game; she was second on the team in rebounds with 6.1 per game. Fessler said Nowakowski was a force to be reckoned with most nights as a scorer, as well as on the boards.
“When Zocia came in, she was just a ball of energy,” Fessler said. “She had a tendency earlier in her career to fly around recklessly, and she learned to harness that. She was our leading scorer this year, and we looked to her a lot to get things going. With the votes she got, it shows she was respected around the conference, as well.”
EHS assistant coach Dave Deru called Nowakowski “a fantastic kid with a great sense of humor.” He also spoke highly of not only Nowakowski’s athleticism, but her willingness to work hard to improve her game.
“Zocia is an athletic freak -- when she was a freshman and a sophomore, she totally relied on her athleticism to get by,” he said. “But the thing I’m proud of the most is that she put in the time her final two seasons to become a good basketball player. She worked for it -- she didn’t just rely on her athleticism, and she was our best player because of it.”
Lowe ran the point for the Lady Devils this season, averaging 8.5 points and 1.5 assists per game. She was also a threat from behind the arc, leading the team in 3-pointers with 23, shooting at a 34% clip.
“Amber isn’t the tallest player in the room, but she put a lot of work in last spring and this fall,” Fessler said. “She was coming in with me in the mornings to work on her game, and she really improved and made herself a threat.”
Lowe also became a vocal leader for the Lady Devils, and was named a team captain prior to the start of the season; she also demonstrated her toughness at the end of the season, playing through a back injury.
“She [Lowe] was a great leader, always positive,” Fessler said. “Just a great kid to coach. She had that really hot streak where for two weeks, she was just going off. She was struggling with her back for the whole last month of the season, but she never complained. I was very impressed with her will to disregard her own needs and gut it out for her teammates.”
Coach Deru said Lowe’s love of basketball was evident in the amount of time she spent improving her game.
“Amber’s another girl who worked her tail off in the offseason,” he said. “Basketball is very much her sport, so she would constantly be working on her game. This year, she developed some strong leadership skills -- she spoke her mind, and just worked hard all the time.”
Wagstaff -- also a team captain -- averaged 4.8 points and 2.6 assists per game, though her defense is what garnered the most respect around the conference.
“Taryn [Wagstaff] was our scrapper, and we put her on the toughest guard the other team had each game,” Fessler said. “She shut down a good share of the players she faced, and she was a great ball handler -- she got the ball up the court. She led us in assists, so she set up other players well. Just like Amber and Zocia, just a great leader. All three of those kids are going to do great things in the future.”
The Lady Devils will graduate five seniors this year -- in addition to Nowakowski, Lowe and Wagstaff, Maggie Moore and Tiana Pierce also provided senior leadership to a team that just missed qualifying for the state tournament. Fessler said it’s a group that will be hard to replace, on and off the court -- there are a few reasons why Evanston didn’t make it to state, but effort isn’t one of them.
“We had a great family atmosphere, the best I’ve had as a coach, and that’s a tribute to all of those seniors,” Fessler said. “I’m going to miss their personalities -- all five of them were just amazing. All five of them may have had a bad day here and there, but they never showed it. They were just awesome to be around. They worked really hard and left everything they had out on the floor.”
Looking toward the future, the Lady Devils have another talented group of soon-to-be seniors with varsity experience returning, as well as a handful of juniors and sophomores and a solid post player in Stacia Barker to build around.
Fessler said he’s looking forward to seeing what this team can become.
“There’s a lot of good things happening with this program,” he said. “Our shooting has to improve, but the pieces and the work ethic is there -- the desire to get better is there. I think we’ve got a group of girls who are dedicated to becoming very good basketball players.”