Struggling at the free-throw line through the first weeks of the season, Kaitlyn Mullings switched up her routine at the charity stripe.
Before shooting, she now places the ball under her arm and takes a breath, and the Morgan Park Academy (MPA) junior forward seems to be on to something.
Connecting on 5 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter on Jan. 9 against Woodlands Academy in an Independent School League (ISL) game, Mullings’ overall effort helped host MPA earn an exciting 48-43 win.
“In the beginning of the season, I was missing a lot of free throws. I decided to try something new,” Mullings said. “I take a second and focus on the game and get out of my head. I take my time. There’s no need to rush.”
Along with her free-throw shooting prowess, Mullings (Beverly, Kellogg) powered the Warriors with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Mullings has been a key player this season for MPA, but according to Coach Tom Drahozal, her performance against Woodlands was outstanding.
“Kaitlyn has really picked it up this year, but this was by far her best game,” Drahozal said. “We needed other players to step up, and Kaitlyn has really stepped up with points and a lot of tough rebounds.”
Mullings scored 11 of her 22 in the fourth quarter.
Her hard-fought basket inside to start the final quarter put MPA up 33-30. She later hit a midrange jumper from the wing to make it 35-31 and then swished 2 free throws at the 3-minute mark to go up 39-34.
A Mullings free throw with 2:25 remaining extended the Warriors’ lead to 40-36.
“I saw the score; and Woodlands was close, so I knew I had to step up,” Mullings said. “If it’s not someone else’s night, I need to step up and become more of a factor offensively.”
Senior forward Amaya McLachlan finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals in the ISL win. A four-year varsity starter, McLachlan has been a machine this season in averaging 26 points.
With the postseason around the corner, McLachlan has enjoyed seeing Mullings and the Warriors continue to improve.
“Kaitlyn has been taking over game a lot this year, hitting shots and just being Kaitlyn,” McLachlan said. “Everyone’s taking big steps. We only have eight players, so we know we need each other. Someone might not be scoring, but we all need to make shots when it counts.”
Mullings wasn’t alone in delivering timely points in the fourth as sophomore Rachel Sheppard drilled a short jumper off an assist from Samaria Harris (6 rebounds).
The Sheppard jumper off an inbounds pass with 55 seconds left sealed the win as MPA went up 44-41.
Mullings blocked a Woodlands shot at the other end 15 seconds later.
Sheppard finished with 6 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals.
Fellow sophomore Sham White dished out 5 assists for the Warriors.
Sheppard and White both came off the bench last season.
“Sham’s our full-time starting point guard, and she’s really made improvements,” Drahozal said. “The same thing for Rachel. She was our second option off the bench, and she’s starting now. Players have stepped into their roles.”
MPA improved to 16-3, 3-0.
The young team’s rapid development may have surprised some, but the Warriors knew what they were capable of all along.
“We know we worked hard over the summer getting in the gym together,” McLachlan said. “We knew what we were heading into. We have other people to rely on for scoring.”