After beating Westinghouse 94-71in the IHSA Class 3A sectional semifinals on March 10, Fenwick’s boys basketball team left St. Ignatius’ gym with the expectation it would be competing for a chance at a state championship later in the week.
However, the IHSA announced on March 12 that it canceled its state series due to concerns about COVID-19, prematurely ending the Friars’ season.
“Obviously, our initial reaction was that we were all disappointed,” said Fenwick head coach Staunton Peck in a phone interview with Wednesday Journal. “But after the NCAA canceled its tournament and you saw what other leagues were doing because [of COVID-19], I would be lying if I said I was surprised this happened. With this situation you can’t be shocked by anything, but it also doesn’t mean it’s not a disappointment.”
While the magnitude of the pandemic makes this past winter sports season seem minuscule, the timing could not have come worse for Fenwick. The Friars outscored their opponents 262-148 in the first three games of the postseason and seemed to have rid themselves of the injury bug with the return of seniors Cal Malcow and Ryan Planek.
On top of recovering from prior injuries, Fenwick also saw sophomores David Geiser and Max Reese emerge as game-changing threats for the team throughout the season. Geiser especially took a leap in the playoffs and was an excellent complementary piece from the perimeter when defenses brought extra attention to Trey Pettigrew and Bryce Hopkins.
“I mean even in eighth grade, [Geiser] could always shoot it,” said Peck. “He has reached a point where he is shooting at another level right now. He’s one of the best shooters in the area. It’s hard for sophomores at the beginning of the year since they have never played varsity and getting used to the size, speed and closeouts. He got used to all of those things and by the end of the year, he wasn’t playing like a sophomore.”
The cancelation of the state series has a greater impact than just the teams that were going to compete in it. For prospects like Pettigrew, it was a chance to get looked at by recruiters who would go down to watch the state’s best players go toe-to-toe with one another.
On top of missing a chance at state, the athletic clothing company Under Armour canceled its national tournament in Atlanta where scouts seek out the best high school prospects.
“Most recruiting will heat up around the start of AAU season and the first two sessions getting canceled took a big hit on that,” said Pettigrew during a phone interview with Wednesday Journal. “Missing a chance at state hurts, too, so missing those is a little detrimental [to Pettigrew getting recruited], but I will pick it back up.”
While Pettigrew’s two-way ability and two more years of high school eligibility still put him in a good position for elite colleges to recruit him, there are other short-term worries that he and other high school prospects are dealing with during this time. Finding gyms to train in to stay in shape for the AAU season is one problem some of these players will face as social distancing becomes stricter.
Even with the AAU circuit coming up this summer, this is a difficult pill for Fenwick’s team to swallow. The Friars will bring back Hopkins, Pettigrew, Geiser and Reese next season but will lose key seniors in Walsh (who started for Fenwick alongside Pettigrew in the backcourt) and Malcow who provided meaningful minutes off the bench. Planek was injured for most of the season and was going to be a starter heading into the season. He didn’t make it back until the last few games of the season.
“No one thought we would make it this far,” said Pettigrew. “Before the season, I think we all knew that we had a lot of power packed behind our punch. We are going to come back stronger and more hungry, because this year could have been our year to win state and next year could be ours as well.”
Peck said that the team will meet up at some point so that there is some form of finality to the season.
“There are things happening right now that are more important than basketball,” said Peck. “But I think it is important for [the team] to close the season out in some way. I remember competing for a state championship when I was in high school and that experience is something I will never forget. [The team] won’t get that chance but we are going to do something.”