Whitefish Bay - Next stop: the Drake Relays.
The annual track and field meet in Des Moines, Iowa, has become one of the country's biggest and most celebrated events since it began in 1910. When it rolls around next year, the event will also serve as a reunion for current Dominican High School seniors Dilonna Johnson and Deysha Smith-Jenkins.
Though Smith-Jenkins is the daughter of current Milwaukee Vincent girls basketball coach Derick Jenkins, the WIAA Division 2 state record-holder in the 200 meters will make her mark in college on the track, recently signing her National Letter of Intent to run for the University of Connecticut.
Johnson, who joined Smith-Jenkins in turning Dominican into a state hoops powerhouse, will continue on the hard court, playing on scholarship at Drake. So once a year at least, when UCONN heads to Drake for the relays event, the two can re-connect.
"It's going to be pretty hard," Johnson said. "She's like my sister and she's going to be so far away. We'll stay in contact and play some 1 on 1 over the summer.
"At Dominican, it was pretty much all about the boys basketball team (when we got there). I expected us to start something. We've broken a decent amount of records, as a team we've broken some records."
The two garnered a number of accolades over their careers, and both were named to the 2012 NOW Newspapers All-Suburban girls basketball team. A third Dominican player, freshman Allazia Blockton, also made the list, making the 2011-2012 season an intersection between what could very well be two waves of a girls basketball empire.
Dominican coach Kevin Schramka saw how special Smith-Jenkins was immediately when he made her a captain as a freshman.
"I didn't understand why the coach picked me to be a captain then," she said. "I really take pride in my leadership. I like working hard and knowing that you deserve something so big after working hard."
When Johnson arrived one year later as a sophomore, the Knights transformed from a 5-16 team to a 21-4 squad. One year later, they went to the Division 3 state tournament with a perfect 26-0 record, only to lose to Kewaunee in the opening round.
Smith-Jenkins and Johnson, who combined to score more than 2,900 points in their storied careers, became two of the state's best players.
"Deysha, she pretty much has all the qualities that I don't really have," Johnson said. "She makes up for and everything, and everything she doesn't have, I make up for. She's the perfect teammate."
This year, with Blockton in the mix, the team was again one of the best in the area, finishing 22-2 after an upset at the hand of Racine St. Catherine in the playoffs.
"Dilonna can shoot from anywhere, and it's going in," Blockton said. "Plus, her defense is amazing. Nobody hardly scores on her. Deysha is very strong, a great finisher, so me and her worked really well together. We both have some of the same techniques."
Blockton, who admitted she came into the season trying to carve out a name as the best freshman in the state, scored 19.6 points per game to lead the team and also brought in a team-best 7.5 rebounds. Johnson (15.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.7 steals) and Smith-Jenkins (14.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.3 steals) made for a devastating trio for opponents.
"Scoring-wise, we didn't really care about that a lot this year," Johnson said. "It was more this year we wanted to be leaders and get ourselves back to where we got ourselves last year in Madison. I'm not saying we just handed over the role of being the scorer (to Blockton), but it didn't cause any conflict."
Though the dream of returning to Madison and claiming a state championship ultimately eluded the Knights, the program has quickly evolved from a series of losing campaigns to one of the state's elite. The team even elected to stay in Division 3 this year when enrollment would have permitted them to play in Division 4 of the playoffs.
"Dominican has always had talent, and I think once I got there, Dilonna got there and coach Schramka got there, the talent really started being shown," Smith-Jenkins said. "State was an amazing feeling. Playing on that Wisconsin floor, I felt like I was in college, in March Madness and the NCAA tournament. It was a great feeling being up there with my team.
"I remember asking, 'Mom, dad, are you sure about this school? Sure about this team?' From the beginning, they stressed how it was about academics. Dominican is such an academic school, and they said the team would come."
The hopes of another undefeated season went down in a loss to Heritage Christian during a holiday tournament, when a win could have pitted Dominican against Milwaukee Vincent in what would have been a whale of a family battle for Deysha and her dad. Smith-Jenkins also broke a finger in the setback.
"Sitting on the bench was just so painful," Smith-Jenkins said. "Luckily it was only six games.
"Personally I was happy we lost early in the season," she added. "I felt like it was a turning point because our conference wasn't so great this year. Not that we went into that game with big heads, but we were excited to play the good competition and we fell short. I think we weren't prepared."
Heritage Christian went on to win the Division 5 state title.
"Maybe it did light a fire under us," Johnson said. "After that, we felt like we were unbeatable."
Passing the torch
The Knights were unfazed, winning all the games with Smith-Jenkins out. Blockton had no fewer than 22 points in any of those contests.
"If we needed a bucket, we could look for her to score," Johnson said. "She's a freshman this year, and there's probably a lot of pressure on her; we probably all had pressure. She handled it pretty well."
Blockton took her cues from the trailblazers before her.
"It was great if I needed help with something, they were always there to tell me what I needed to improve on," she said. "If I needed to go into the gym and shoot around, they were telling me what I needed to do. Stay calm if I get nervous, give me speeches before the game."
Said Smith-Jenkins, "She's a freshman but she definitely doesn't play like one. She was a great addition to the team this year."
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