In junior forward Sydney Affolter, the Marist girls basketball team has a star to build around.

The Mt. Greenwood native showed off her abilities in the host RedHawks’ season-opening 64-46 win over Crete-Monee on Nov. 20, posting stats of 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 steals and 4 assists.

However, what was more important for Marist was its young core stepping up around Affolter and providing key contributions down the stretch.

“Mostly, it’s their confidence out there,” Affolter said. “We go at it in practice, but we’re best friends after. We have a really good team chemistry this year for sure.”

Also leading the way for the RedHawks were sophomores Le’Lani Harris (16 points, 6 rebounds), Kira Chivers (10 points) and Emily Bojan (9 rebounds) and senior Jenna Ryan (7 points).

Chivers started at point guard throughout her freshman year, but the start of her sophomore year was in doubt after an injury she sustained in practice on Nov. 19.

Working through a defensive drill, the 5’2” sophomore dove for a ball only to have a teammate fall on her, driving Chivers’ face into the floor.

“I busted my chin and chipped a molar,” Chivers said. “It was bleeding a lot, but it didn’t hurt. I think I was too shocked.”

A quick trip to the immediate care center for some stitches and Chivers was front and center a day later in the starting lineup for the opener.

Marist Coach Mary Pat Connolly loves her point guard’s effort.

“Kira has a whole season under her belt, and she put in an awful lot of work in the offseason,” Connolly said. “She knew what we expect out of her. She worked on shooting, strength and agility. She’s just relentless on defense.”

After a fast-paced first quarter, the RedHawks found themselves in a 24-17 hole against a hot-shooting Warriors squad.

Turning up the defensive intensity, Marist slowly wore down Crete-Monee, especially in the interior with Affolter, Bojan, Cencere McDaniel (5 rebounds) and Harris controlling the boards.

Although Affolter is the tallest player on the roster at 6 feet, according to Chivers, the team is feisty and ready to battle in every game.

“We can fly under the radar. A lot of people might underestimate us because of our size,” Chivers said. “We’re on the smaller side, but we’re going to get after it either way. Other teams can come and get it.”

A 5’10” forward, Bojan was especially impressive chasing down rebounds. Bojan, Harris and Mary Clare Brusek were teammates at Queen of Martyrs Elementary School.

Affolter has been impressed with the sophomore trio’s contributions.

“Emily doesn’t take anything from anyone. She’s super aggressive,” Affolter said. “That’s her role. She doesn’t need to shoot. We need her to rebound and play defense. Le’Lani worked on her skills a lot this summer, and Mary Clare is just coming off volleyball. She’ll be right back at it.”

Harris scored 12 of her points in the second half, including 9 in the fourth.

In her third varsity season, Affolter said the team is coming together and working for more.

“Team chemistry is so big. That can be the difference from a good to a very good team,” Affolter said. “We need to get everyone involved and push each other as hard as we can and not get down on each other.”