Lake Zurich girls basketball coach Chris Bennett knows full well how good a player Johanna Solverson was. She was the star of the 2002 girls basketball team that went four months without losing a game.
So how come he picked a game where she was in foul trouble to show how good a player she was?
It is Jan. 26, 2002, and Lake Zurich is riding a 23-game winning streak. But next up for the Bears was a Fenwick club with Purdue University bound Erin Lawless. Let’s be honest here — not everyone believed Lake Zurich was for real.
“We were playing Fenwick and they were ranked No. 1 in the state,” Bennett recalled. “And Johanna picked up two fouls in the first two minutes guarding Lawless.”
Despite the loss of Solverson, the Bears stayed in the game with the powerful Friars. Bennett, an assistant coach at time, recalled the final minutes of this contest.
“She sits until the two-minute mark,” he said. “The game is tied. There is a loose ball, Johanna grabs it at the Fenwick free throw line, dribbles twice outside up the floor and a Fenwick defender tries to cut her off.”
“This 6-foot-3 girl throws it behind her back and then cross back over, coast to coast for a layup,” he continued. “That put us ahead for good. It was an unbelievable play. It had great impact because the rest of our team found out we were way more than just one player. And she could maintain her focus even in the toughest of situations and still stay positive.”
Solverson played college basketball at the University of Iowa. She played more hoops professionally in Europe. Now, she has returned to Illinois where she is raising a family and doing some coaching at Cary-Grove. She, too, looked back on the very special 2001-02 basketball campaign at Lake Zurich High School.
“That was my senior year and the memories I have are still my favorite ever from basketball,” Solverson said. “People ask me about my favorite games or favorite seasons. And I would do anything to go back to high school basketball.”
The argument starts with the great Lisa Foss. She was the first superstar basketball player at Lake Zurich. Then came the terrific scorer in Alicia Ratay who starred for the Bears in 1999. Finally, there was the powerful Solverson.
“They were different kinds of players,” Bennett said. “Alicia the dead-eye shooter and Johanna was the 6-foot-3 player who could post you up with a killer up-and-under, drive you to the basket, or shoot over your head. Those two were clearly our top two, but it’s hard to say who was better.”
On Feb. 8, 2002, Lake Zurich hammered Crystal Lake South 68-27 to complete a perfect 28-0 regular season.
“Going 28-0 was awesome it really was a fun experience,” Solverson said. “For once the girls basketball team got more fans than the boys teams. We were filling the gym, which hadn’t been done in a while, I’m sure.”
Teamed with scorer Patti Hornung and guard Shannon Kolze, the unbeaten Bears headed to the playoffs. Lake Zurich won the first two regional games by a total of 73 points. The 31st win of the season was a thriller with Barrington.
“We had two big games that we had to play to get us to state and one was at our place against Barrington,” she said. “Now the facts are blurry because it was a while ago, but in the final minutes of the game they had a girl score in our basket. Which till this day I always think what if? What if someone had blocked her? What if that never happened?
A supersectional win took Solverson and team to the state tournament. After stopping Moline 47-35 behind 18 points and seven rebounds from Solverson, Lake Zurich finally tasted defeat. Lake Zurich (34-2) finished fourth in the state.
At home, Solverson followed in the footsteps of her older and taller brother, Thor.
“Growing up, he and I played all sports except really soccer, as it wasn’t around when I was growing up,” she said. “I basically followed and did everything my older brother Thor did."
"Basketball was always the most fun there was, always something new to learn, and I just kept figuring it out more and more. It’s hard to explain, but I just absolutely love the game, everything about it," she said.
Solverson gave baseball a try, which led to softball. She even played four years of volleyball at Lake Zurich.
“Everything I did always led me back to basketball,” she said.
It took a while for Solverson to get used to being a tall girl.
“That’s another funny story,” Bennett said. “Seventh-grade junior Bears we had probably six, seven players taller than Johanna. In fact, she was shorter than Shannon Kolze. Shannon graduated high school at 5-foot-7 and Johanna at 6-foot-3. Johanna played on the sophomore team as a freshman, averaging about eight turnovers a game. She was gangly, uncoordinated, but you could tell she was going to be a player.”
Solverson agreed with that assessment.
“I grew quite a few inches my summer going into freshman, maybe sophomore year summer, so with that I was pretty uncoordinated,” she said. “I was always on the floor falling down, but once I figured out my body I was able to use my height to my advantage.”
Solverson moved on to the University of Iowa and became a college star, despite suffering two ACL tears in college. She finished her career 18th in school history for points. Her professional career included playing hoops in Greece.
But, in that magical high school season in 2002, she averaged 17 points and seven rebounds a game for Lake Zurich.
“She was the best player of the last decade in Lake County,” Bennett said.