After an accolade-filled debut varsity campaign on the hardwood as a 10th-grader, Angelique Cowan was a known commodity entering her junior season this past winter.
Following the electric guard's 32-point performance in the third game, she became even more of a focal point for the opposition. A couple games later, Rock Falls implemented a box-and-1 to stop the Ottawa Lady Pirates' star — which worked.
"I mean, it was kind of frustrating at first, because I'd never seen that (defense) before," said Cowan of the Lady Rockets, who limited her to just four field-goal attempts and three points, "and then after that, we saw a lot of it. I think each time we saw it, we got better (against) it; I finally got more comfortable. It just makes me a better player."
Indeed it did.
Despite facing junk defenses from thereon out, Cowan still managed to produce offensively, averaging 13.6 points per game — including 58 3-point makes at a 36-percent clip — and 2.4 assists while helping lead OHS to a 17-10 record.
Cowan's efforts have earned her The Times 2017-18 Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
"We didn't accomplish all the goals we had, but I think we still had a pretty good season. We competed well against some of the best teams in the conference," said Cowan, who added that her highlights were Ottawa's double-overtime win over sectional finalist Sycamore, along with her aforementioned career-high point total versus Aurora Christian. "There were a lot of things I, obviously, wish I could have done better, but I think I improved a lot from last season.
"Going into this season was definitely a lot more challenging; being known made it a lot harder, so I had to work a lot harder. The more challenge there is, the more it's going to help me improve. So I see it as a positive."
"You know, I thought (Angelique) handled (the attention) great," Lady Pirates coach Brent Moore said. "She was ready for the challenge of everybody knowing about her, and she responded the right way. I mean, she got to the point to where she knew herself that she was going to be the target of everybody that we played, especially in our conference.
"When we got to the conference season, she was getting either double-teamed or face-guarded, and she was still able to be productive enough on the offensive end to be the best player in the conference. (Cowan repeated as NIB 12 West MVP).
"I thought she took everything in stride and was able to step up and be one of our team leaders — still be that go-to girl — and help us get to 17 wins. I mean, everything we did offensively revolved around her, and even after being at the top of everyone's scouting report ... she was still able to put up her points. And what Angelique got a lot better at from the past couple seasons was her defense."
Besides being counted on to score, Cowan was relied upon to defend one of the opponents' top players — something she took pride in — and also provide leadership as a team captain.
Having a season of varsity experience benefited Cowan.
"I felt like she was a lot more confident going into her junior season than she was sophomore season," Moore said. "It was like her realizing that she could do it at the varsity level as a sophomore and be as successful as she was. I think it was a little bit of a realization for her that she can be that good."
"I think playing last season definitely helped a lot," Cowan said. "I was real hesitant last season because I didn't really know what varsity basketball was like; I didn't know the dos and don'ts, and now that I've come to know them, I think I've become a much better player. Now that I like know the ropes of varsity basketball, I think I was more confident and comfortable because I knew my role on the team and what I was able to do."
Cowan, who's playing this spring/summer on the AAU circuit for Bourbonnais-based Example Sports, will spend the offseason working on her ball-handling skills and developing a mid-range jumper in preparation for the next level. She has received interest from Bradley, Illinois State, Southern Illinois-Carbondale and Valparaiso, per her AAU coach, Barry Bradford, who projects Cowan will end up at a low- to mid-major Division I program.
As for her final campaign donning the Crimson and White and sporting the No. 11 jersey ...
"I want my senior year to be the best season we've had so far," Cowan said. "I want to help us get the conference championship back (Ottawa won it Cowan's sophomore season), win a regional; hopefully get to state. I want to make a team on all-state, not just a mention (recognition Cowan has garnered the last two seasons from the IBCA)."
"I see Angelique raising the bar just personally for herself (stat-wise) to not only help us as a team to be successful, but also to pave the way for her future," Moore said.