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Women's B-Ball Ends in Close Finals
by Ross Forman

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Pictured Charlie's Ale House. Photos by Ross Forman. Joie De Vine and players Albiona Zhubi and Sarah Lamkin.

When Charlie's Ale House went for the A-Division championship last year of the Windy City Athletic Association's women's basketball season, Malissa Burke missed the finals because she was applying for a basketball-related job at Northwestern University.

Well, Burke, 24, got the job as Director of Basketball Operations, but Charlie's lost the championship.

Wasn't going to happen this year, though.

Burke, who lives in Evanston and played her college ball at Colgate before graduating in 2004, carried Charlie's to a convincing championship game win, 57-35. She had a team-high 24 points.

'The championship game was a lot of fun,' said Burke, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. 'It's always fun to be in this type of environment again, where everyone is competitive and there's a crowd.'

Burke's Colgate run included an NCAA Tournament game as a senior against perennial-power Tennessee. In the WCAA title tilt, she was a power on defense, grabbing rebound after rebound after rebound.

'Basketball has always been fun for me, at every level. Basketball is a pastime, an outlet,' said Burke, a shooting guard. 'This championship game was enjoyable, fun, especially because I got to play with and against all of my friends.'

Particularly, her partner: Brooke Benson, 38, a dentist who lives in the West Loop. Benson is the captain of the winning club.

'We sort of had the title stolen from us last year, so we had something to prove this year,' said Burke, whose teammates includes players from the University of Denver ( Benson ) , University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Loyola, among other places. 'We kind of have a stacked team.'

Benson, the team captain who hails from Denver, Colo., has been on the team for four years; this is her fifth year in the league.

'It was a great season, especially going undefeated. It was nice to run the table, especially because everyone was gunning for the undefeated team,' said Benson, who graduated from the University of Denver in 1992.

She led her WCAA team in steals and assists.

'The lesbian basketball community is small, so we're playing against a lot of our friends. But that really gets the competitive juices flowing even more; we really wanted to take it to them for that reason.'

Charlie's is a fast-break team that uses its off-court training to excel on. They take boxing and spinning classes together. Charlie's players range from 24 to 38, and include an attorney, a federal agent and a teacher, among other professions. Burke and Benson are the only couple on the team.

'It's great to play on the same team with Malissa, a lot of fun. We know our strengths and weaknesses on the court, and we play to them,' Benson said. 'It's nice to have the camaraderie of your partner at home and on the court.'

The B-Division championship game also was lop-sided as Joie De Vine bombed Who Knows, 57-37. Albiona Zhubi led all scorers with 20 points.

'It was great to win the championship, especially because we were in seventh-place and no one expected we'd win,' said team captain Kristi Solberg, 26, of West Dundee. 'We had a full bench today, for a change; that certainly helped.'

Solberg, who attended Illinois State University, is in her third season in the league.

'I was very surprised by the ( championship game ) score, especially because they beat us during the regular season,' Solberg said. 'We really try to have fun out there. ... Plus, it helps that we have players with great skill.'

The championship game highlight for Joie was, perhaps, the two points scored by Sarah Lamkin, bringing her season total to eight.

'It's always fun playing with this team,' said Albiona Zhubi, 23, a Glenview resident who attended Glenbrook South High School and then Illinois State University ( to play golf, ironically ) . 'Quite often, we show up for games only five minutes before they start and hope we can pull it together by halfway through the first half. Sometimes we do; sometimes we don't. But we have fun no matter what.'

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