PORT BYRON — With one of the primary players in Riverdale's run to last February's IHSA Class 2A state girls' basketball tournament graduating, Shae Hanrahan knew her role was going to expand in a big way.
Although the Rams' 6-foot senior forward was expected to shoulder a greater scoring and rebounding load, she was equally expected to continue to be her own player and not necessarily be a Sidney Garrett redux.
"Sidney's a unique player with her own skill set, and she obviously was a great player for us," Riverdale head coach Jay Hatch said. "But, Shae's just got to be Shae. The big thing we got across to her over the summer was just to be more aggressive on offense. We needed her to be more of a scoring threat this year."
This week's Illinois Pacesetter apparently took that advice to heart.
Averaging 13.2 points per game for 2A's top-ranked and undefeated Rams, Hanrahan is coming off a strong week that included her first two double-double performances of the season.
She went for 12 points and 10 rebounds in the second of two wins over Three Rivers West Division rival Morrison last week, then came back less than 48 hours later to celebrate Senior Day last Saturday with an 11-point, 14-rebound performance in a decisive 51-18 TRAC crossover victory against Peru St. Bede.
"It's been a crazy year," Hanrahan said, referring to the delayed start and shortened schedule due to COVID-19 restrictions, "but we're picking up where we left off last season and keeping on. We're trying to do everything we can to make this the best year for all of us seniors."
Combined with a solid all-around game in Riverdale's first win over Morrison just over a week ago — eight points, six steals, five rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists — Hanrahan has filled the void left by Garrett's graduation and helped the Rams to a 7-0 start, including a 5-0 conference record.
In addition to her 13.2 points per game, Hanrahan is putting up 6.7 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.2 assists as well as two blocked shots per contest.
"Losing Sidney, who was a big post player for us, I knew I had to step up and drive more, shoot when I was open, and be aggressive every game," she said. "I had big shoes to fill, but I've been adding my own flair to it. All of us, including myself, have stepped up, and we've been doing very well with what we have.
"With no state tournament this year (because of COVID-19 and the late start), which is out of our control, a conference title is the best thing we can possibly get, so we're going to keep on doing our best."
In their bid for a third consecutive Three Rivers West title, the Rams have also taken on the challenge of being ranked first in the Illinois AP state polls with equal enthusiasm.
"We've always dreamed about that," Hanrahan said. "Even with no postseason or state tournament, being No. 1 is something we've worked so hard to have, and it's such an honor. I feel that way, and I know all the girls are feeling that way.
"I think it'll make us play better. We want to hold on to that position, we never want to give that up."
Upon her own high school graduation, Hanrahan's path and life will take her into the United States military. She is still deciding between either the Army or the Air Force. Her mother and two uncles both served in the Army, with a third uncle serving in the Marines, and her older brother Dalton is deployed with the Army in Qatar.
Before stepping into the next phase of her life, Hanrahan is enjoying her role as a senior and team leader, sharing the captaincy with classmate and guard Molly Sharp. Hanrahan wants herself and her teammates to truly be all they can be.
"I've always loved being a leader and having that feeling of bonding," she said. "This is our last year together, and I want us to make the most of it, to give our all and play each game like it's our last."