Emily Halliday got an unusually specific and demanding request prior to a regional semifinal game her Coal City Lady Coalers hosted against Lincoln-Way West on Feb. 12.
"My mom would always give me a goal to shoot for before every game, for how many points to score," Halliday said this week. "She told me to score 22 points before the game against Lincoln-Way West. I scored 21, so I fell one short. I thought she was just giving me a hard time with it, but she was obviously telling the truth, that there was a reason for me to want to do it."
Halliday had entered the game 22 points shy of becoming the first player in Lady Coalers history to score 1,000 varsity points before the end of her junior season. Coal City won the game 57-38, and Halliday was able to reach the milestone during a 51-39 loss to Joliet Catholic in the regional championship two days later.
Though Halliday has scored an unprecedented rate for the Lady Coalers, coach Brad Schmitt says he values her defense even more than her offense. For her contributions on both ends of the court on a Coal City team that won nine games more than any other in the area, Halliday is the 2013 Morris Daily Herald Player of the Year in girls basketball.
Like former Coal City wings such as Krista Watson and her sister, Brittany Halliday, before her, Emily was used by Schmitt to guard whoever he deemed was the opponent's best offensive player for the majority of every game.
"We've had, you know, a good run of athletes in my time who defend in a similar fashion," Schmitt said. "Emily certainly qualifies as one of those. ... She's in such great shape that she doesn't have to save energy by guarding lesser players."
Halliday remembers that her defensive responsibilities were very different when she debuted with the Lady Coalers.
"My freshman year, I came in and played on varsity, and they mostly brought me up — because I wasn't a very big body — more so I could be a quick person coming off the bench," she said. "They might have me try to stop the other team's second- or third-best player."
Brittany Halliday graduated in 2011, and since then, Emily has drawn the most difficult defensive assignments.
"She has developed into exactly what we felt she could be. She's strong and she's quick and she's tough, and she is just able to take the opponent's best player and take them out of their game on the offensive end," Schmitt said. "It was very apparent in the Lincoln-Way West game, when she took their best player and held her down to no baskets during the time she was guarding her.
"She takes pride in what she does on the defensive end even more so than her offense, which is unusual for a player of her talent. And that's what we stress."
Being assigned the opponent's top scorer on an every-game basis can tun into a grind, Halliday admits.
"It gets very tiring," Halliday said. "When you're talking about someone who can score a lot on offense, it usually isn't someone who can only drive, or who can only shoot. They can usually do it all, so you have to be ready for everything. Fortunately, Brittany Jezik would help me out for a few possessions or whatever if I was getting tired."
Halliday says her matchups with Peotone senior Brittney Campione stand out most from the season. Campione scored 17 points in a 42-38 Coal City win Nov. 19 at the Beecher Fall Classic. She was held to eight in each of two games between the teams later in the year — a 48-44 Coal City win at the Interstate Eight Conference Tournament on Jan. 17, and a 37-36 Coal City win at home on Feb. 7.
"She's a lefty, but she can go to the hole with her right hand," Halliday said of Campione. "She's a very versatile player, so guarding her is a big challenge. The last time we played them, I held her to two or three points when I was on her. I know I played pretty good defense that night. She kind of scored a lot of points on me earlier, but that third time, I shut her down."
Scoring when necessary
Entering the season, Schmitt knew he had two returning All-Interstate Eight Conference players in Halliday and Britta Spelde — and a number of question marks. It seemed that her average of 13.4 points per game as a sophomore would likely increase.
It did, but only by 0.2 points per game, to 13.6. The emergence of senior Donjetta Shabani, who averaged 9.0 points per game, and of sophomore Nicole Borgetti, who averaged 8.5, took away Coal City's need for Halliday to score prolifically.
"Emily will be the first to tell you she's not interested in how many points she's scoring. It's all wins and losses with her," Schmitt said. "From my standpoint, when we needed her to score, she scored. In most of the close games we had that we won, that was the difference.
"We did have a better distribution offensively this year. She also didn't play as many minutes as she did last year because we didn't need her on the floor due to games not being close as often."
Halliday admits that she probably expended more energy playing defense than she did on the offensive end.
"It was very easy for me to want to mix up the scoring," she said. "It was easier for me, if I was guarding the other team's best player and having to bust my butt on defense, on offense if I could count on my teammates like I was able to."
In close, late situations, Halliday had no problem being the player to whom the Lady Coalers usually turned.
"My free throws (62 percent) weren't the best this year," Halliday said, "but if we needed a quick basket, I felt I could kind of handle the pressure. At least I always felt I would be able to get a decent shot up, and if I made it, that would be great."