By Melvin Tate
Fenwick's varsity team went 23-12 last season but came up short in the state playoffs. They averaged 50 points per game and had a point differential of +384. With five seniors gone from last year's roster, head coach Dave Power has a combination of youth and senior leadership that he hopes will propel his team this season. Here are three reasons why Melvin Tate thinks you need to follow Friars basketball this season.
Returnees have something to prove
Fenwick has been ousted by Nazareth Academy in the IHSA Class 3A sectional final twice in the last two seasons. But with plenty of experienced players returning to go with a few talented newcomers, the Friars are optimistic they can finally get over the hump.
"The past losses to Nazareth were tough, but we only use them as motivation to improve our skills and work to get further," said Fenwick senior guard Lily Reardon. "I think they've taught us that we must stay focused and treat every game like it is a final."
Indeed, Fenwick has used the preseason to emphasize the importance of self-improvement. And head coach Dave Power likes what he's seen so far in practice.
"It's going quite well," he said. "We've come out really hard and spent a lot of time on defense. We're always capable of scoring points, but we want to put emphasis on playing both ends of the court. Hopefully, they'll learn that playing tough defense can convert into scoring."
Reardon and forward Katie Schneider are four-year varsity players whose experience is valuable for the program, according to Power.
Another player to look out for is Sheila Hogan. The senior is a three-year varsity player who has a nice outside shot. She suffered an injury during soccer season last spring, but Power is hoping for her return in the second half of the year.
Junior forward Lauren Hall is entering her third season on the varsity, and Power likes her all-around game a lot.
"Lauren is very athletic. She has great anticipation and runs the floor; she has a good motor," he said.
With the Nazareth losses hanging over them, the seniors will have one more shot to take down a Roadrunners' team that has gone 63-7 the last two years.
Youngsters improving last year's depth
Fenwick also has a pair of good sophomore post players in Audrey Hinrichs and Elise Heneghan who gained valuable experience last year.
"They're both capable of scoring 20 points per game," Power said. "Audrey is almost always our top rebounder, and both she and Elise had some huge games for us."
The Friars' junior varsity team went undefeated last year in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division, and several of those players hope to make an impact this winter, including sophomores Mia Caccitolo, Mira Schwanke, and Amanda Hansen, and juniors Jelena Jaksic and Makenzie Ramonez.
"Mia is a hard-nosed kid. She's very quick and can blow by people," Power said. "Mira is a point guard who has a nice shooting stroke, but she likes to get an assist more than score. Amanda has mad hops and good shot-blocking ability; in time we expect her to be another player who can help us around the basket."
Junior guard Gianna Amundsen and senior guard Stephanie Morella are experienced players who can help in a pinch.
"We have a lot of depth; that's why we think we can play up-tempo at both ends," he added. "Pressuring the ball along with doing some trapping and other defensive stunts will help us keep games at a high pace. We'll push the ball up the floor more than we did last year, and that's based on our willingness to run hard down the floor on both ends. We can use fresh legs and keep up the pressure; while a lot of opponents will play six or seven players, I can see us playing 10."
Fenwick will need its depth to deal with what will be yet another rigorous schedule. Last year, the Friars played three schools that ended the season downstate in 4A - Benet, Mother McAuley and Rockton Hononegah, and this year's slate includes area powers Benet, Lincoln-Way West, Marist, New Trier and Simeon among others.
Watch a coaching legend in action
Reardon knows that playing for Fenwick means playing for an esteemed head coach in Power, and she's appreciative of the opportunity to learn not only about basketball, but also life.
"It's awesome to play for someone with so much experience and talent," Reardon said. "I have learned several things from coach Power, but he continues to teach me how to be a better player and person. Not only does he teach me to be a fair player, but his emphasis on good sportsmanship and fair treatment has taught me how to have respect for others. I have learned to appreciate my teammates and their strengths."
The ultimate goal for the Friars is to advance downstate. But they also know there will be plenty of basketball played before the playoffs, and so this year's approach will be focusing on daily improvement as a team and not so much on the opponents. The way in which Power balances team development and readying for a playoff run will be one of the storylines to look our for this season.
"We're going to concentrate this year on developing our players," Power said. "We want to get better basketball IQ-wise; we have three months to do so. I want us playing our best basketball come state tournament time."