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Stagg grad Laila Barakat leaves her mark on program

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By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

Laila Barakat entered her freshman year of high school basketball with a plan.

She left as one of the most accomplished and successful players in Stagg girls basketball history.

“Coming in my freshman year, I knew what goals I wanted to achieve,” said Barakat, who was a four-year varsity player for the Chargers. “Setting goals for myself got my confidence up and I was able to obtain them.”

Stagg girls basketball coach Bill Turner followed Barakat even before she became a Charger. He certainly appreciated that she talked to him about her goals from the get-go.

“There were some individual and team goals/records we discussed her freshman year, and she wanted to strive for them,” Turner said. “First was to win a conference championship, then achieve the most wins in a season. She also wanted to break the assist records, score over 1,000 points and be selected to the All-State team.

“She and her teammates did a great job of stepping up to those challenges, working hard, providing leadership, and accomplishing both those team and individual goals.”

When all was said and done, Barakat had etched her name into the Chargers record book.

Last season, Stagg was co-champion in the Red Division of the SouthWest Suburban Conference. Barakat had a career-high 32 points, including six 3-pointers, in a 60-50 win over Lincoln-Way Central on Feb. 3 in New Lenox. The victory earned the Chargers a share of the SouthWest Suburban Conference Red crown, their first league title since 2013.

“That (win over Central) was one of my highlights,” Barakat said. “It was also on my best friend and teammate’s, Gail Korbitz, birthday. There was just something in the air and it was amazing.”

The Chargers finished with 23 wins in both Barakat’s freshman season of 2018-19 and in 2021-22. That tied the 2002-03 team for most victories in program history.

She set out to be the all-time career assists leader at Stagg and accomplished it, dishing out 410.

Barakat is also the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,237 points and, despite being a point 5-foot-4 point guard, she grabbed 519 rebounds. She recorded 275 steals, and tied the single-season steals record with 96 in 2019-20. She was also adept at taking charges, with 33 of them.

In her senior season, she averaged 14.4 points per game, 5.1 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.9 steals. She made 42 3-pointers and shot 63.6% from the free-throw line and took 17 charges. Her efforts helped the Chargers to win 18-of-19 games following a 5-7 start.

She was an SWSC Red All-Conference selection and was nominated for conference Player of the Year. She was a three-time All-Tournament team member at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic, and achieved her goal by being named an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State-Special Mention selection.

Two of Barakat’s best memories from her final high school season included scoring her 1,000th point during a home win over Richards on Jan. 8. That took her by surprise.

“I made a free throw,” she recalled of the moment. “I didn’t know that was it and the team started celebrating. It was a shocking moment, but it was great.”

Another was the regional championship game, a 66-52 loss to Marist on Feb. 17.

“Even though we lost, it was such a great atmosphere,” she said. “The stands were packed with family, students and teachers.”

Barakat, who will major in nursing in college, has not decided where she will go to school. In the mix have been University of Illinois-Chicago, Saint Xavier, North Central, North Park, Carthage, Millikin and Benedictine.

“I’m leaning on going to UIC and walking on there,” she said. “But I might start to at Moraine Valley. Colleges are still contacting me.

“All the places are really good. but I’m really picky and want to make the right decision.”

The program she chooses will get who Turner called “a fierce competitor and five-tool player.”.

“She ends her career at Stagg as one of the best all-around players here,” he added. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be her coach for the past four years. A great player, but an even better person.”

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