Kelliher connection has been face of Waukesha North hoops

Mary Catanese
Waukesha North's Elizabeth Kelliher pressures the ball last March in the playoffs against Pewaukee.
Published on: 2/11/2014

Elizabeth and Jessica Kelliher weren't born when Christian Laettner cemented his name in basketball lore with "The Shot," but that doesn't mean they couldn't take a page from his legacy.

With 1.4 seconds to play against league heavyweight Waukesha West on Feb. 3, Elizabeth threw a full-court pass to sister Jessica, who elevated for the ball, dribbled twice and laid up a game-winner, helping her team take a thrilling 49-47 win. The play shared a lot in common with Laettner's game winner for Duke in 1992 against Kentucky in the NCAA regional final, but more importantly for North, it was a return to the Classic 8 map.

"We've been battling some injury bugs, but now that we're healthy, the confidence is starting to come along and the believing in themselves," said North coach Jeff Worzella, whose team had won five straight games heading into a nonconference meeting with Slinger on Tuesday. "Ideally, if we can get the ball in Jessie's hands wherever she is and she's able to get a shot off, we're going to try and do that. The throw was even more impressive. It was right in stride at the free-throw line for her to turn and catch with one motion."

Elizbaeth's return from a hip injury has been part of the turnaround for North, which entered the week at 9-8 as it tried to hold its own with a talent-rich conference that features Arrowhead, Mukwonago and Kettle Moraine at the top. The win over West was the first league victory over one of the top four squads.

"I knew I was strong enough to throw it far enough," Elizabeth said. "I was just hoping that I wouldn't overshoot her, and I had to make sure that it was straight where she would catch it and still be able to shoot. She had a height advantage on the girl guarding her, so I wanted to make sure it was in the right position. It was really great. I was just really happy that we got that win, because I thought we played our hearts out."

The senior Elizabeth, recruited to play at Michigan Tech, averages about three blocks per game and supplements the scoring output of her younger sister, the junior Jessica.

"The blocks don't include the alterations she presents," Worzella said. "She's a tremendous shot blocker and has the outside shot, giving us that second scorer we always need. The most important thing is she helps us with our press break. Her ability to look over the defense and make quality passes, we've been missing that (with her injury). Now that we have her back, our turnovers have gone down and we've been effective attacking the press."

The 6-1 Elizabeth averages just more than 10 points per game. The 6-1 Jessica, meanwhile, leads the conference in scoring (21.2ppg) and entered the week on the brink of history.

The younger Kelliher, who scored 37 points in a win over Greendale one night after hitting the buzzer beater, needed just 12 points against Slinger on Tuesday to match the North career scoring record, one that has stood since Julie Marrazzo scored 1,153 points from 1978-82.

"It's really cool to be able to say that I did that and I have those records, but they don't mean a lot to me if we're not winning," Jessica said. "If I can put up those numbers and we're winning, I'll take it."

She already has the school's single-game scoring record several times over. The Greendale game was the newest amendment to the school mark that she had set in back-to-back games when she scored 32 and 33 points. Maria Viall (1998-99) and Dawn Schirmacher (1986-87) had the old mark with a 31-point game.

"She knows she has to be a scorer for us to win," Worzella said. "But she takes losses as hard as anybody I've ever coached. She understands her role on the team and that scoring output is what we need. I don't think she looks at the statistics and wonders how high she is on the conference leaderboard, but she knows she's going to need to score 16 to 20 points per game for us to have a good shot at winning."

Worzella said Jessica has battled through her own injuries this season but has been able to stay on the floor. She'll ultimately leave the program as perhaps the greatest to wear the purple uniform, and her arrival will also represent the end of a frustrating era. She was a freshman in December of 2011 and Elizabeth a sophomore when the Northstars defeated Mukwonago, snapping a streak of 116 consecutive losses in Classic 8 play.

After three years together helping North emerge from those doldrums into nightly competitiveness, the Kellihers won't be playing together in 2014-15.

"At practice we kind of push each other to get better, because we're constantly having to guard each other," Elizabeth said. "It helps us in games, because we kind of know what the other one is thinking. I think it's really fun to play with her in high school because I didn't always get to do that growing up since we were different ages."

Said Jessica, "We're going to have to adjust as a team (when Elizabeth graduates); we're going to have more kids step up. That's a big role to fill because she does so much for us."