The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted virtually every aspect of everyday life, and high school athletics are no exception.
A traditional basketball season for Illinois high schools begins in mid-November and ends by mid-March. But due to restrictions being placed on youth sports by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois High School Association was not able to hold a season until early February. The schedule was limited to largely conference-only games and ended on March 13.
Here is how the boys and girls basketball teams at Oak Park and River Forest, Fenwick and Trinity High Schools fared:
Against a rigorous schedule, the Friars finished with a stellar 13-3 record and claimed the Chicago Catholic League Blue Conference title. All three of Fenwick’s losses came by three points or less, including a pair of buzzer-beaters at the hands of Notre Dame and Brother Rice.
Senior Bryce Hopkins had another outstanding season as he led Fenwick in scoring and rebounding. The 6-foot-7, Hopkins, a Kentucky signee, was nominated to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game and will go down as one of the program’s all-time greatest players.
Hopkins was the only senior to see significant playing time and will be missed next season. However, Fenwick has a chance at another highly successful campaign, thanks to a strong group of returnees, including David Gieser, Denium Juette, Gabe Madej and football stars Eian Pugh and Max Reese.
The Huskies went 3-3 in the debut season of head coach Phil Gary. The season was cut short due to COVID concerns, but Gary saw enough progress to be encouraged about a return to the program’s good standards in the near future.
“I would say we got better every single day in building a new culture,” he said in an email. “We learned from each other and became more of a team.”
The top players for OPRF included seniors Anthony Coleman and Rashaad Trice, juniors Demetrius Dortch and Justin Mullins, and sophomore Sam Lewis.
Coleman and Trice, along with classmates Tyler Bracey, Diego Garcia and Jack Greenwald, depart. But Dortch, Lewis, Mullins and John Vincent provide the Huskies a solid foundation to build around in their effort to climb back towards the top of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
“I believe this experience will help the returning players more than ever,” Gary said. “I think having a short season will make our guys appreciate basketball more. I believe having your love and passion taken away brings more appreciation and dedication to that craft.”
The Huskies went 5-9, but ended the season on a high note, defeating Proviso West on March 13 in the closing seconds thanks to a pair of free throws by junior Martha Lipic.
“It was a difficult and strange year,” said OPRF head coach J.P. Coughlin. “But this group continued to grind through the adversity and grew as a team throughout.”
Junior Lilah Gery and seniors Rachel Hartman, Abby Spencer (Illinois Wesleyan recruit) and McKale Thompson led the Huskies in scoring, while Maeve Wojcik (Carthage commit) and Kennedy Jones were the team’s top rebounders.
Next season looks bright as there will be plenty of experience returning for OPRF, including Gery, Jones, Lipic, freshman Keira Kleidon, sophomores Sandra Caldwell, Reese Garland, and Libby Majka, and junior Sadie Lyons.
The Friars went 6-7 and as usual played a challenging slate. Fenwick did manage to be the only team in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red to defeat the division champion Loyola Academy, splitting a pair of games with the Ramblers.
While grateful for the opportunity to play some games, head coach Dave Power lamented the fact that it wasn’t a typical season.
“I’m glad we had an opportunity to play basketball. But without a state tournament, it didn’t seem like there was a lot to play for,” he said in a phone interview. “To not have one this year was sad. We had so many things to play through, including injuries. Yet, our girls played with so much heart and gave it everything they had. They played for the love of the game.”
As the Friars’ only senior, Lauren Hall provided steady leadership while concluding her solid four-year varsity career.
“Lauren is a great role model for the girls. She works and plays hard,” said Power. “She also works hard in the classroom, and her work ethic and attitude are great. She always gives it her all in everything she does, and a lot of kids could learn from her.”
Fenwick returns everyone but Hall next season. Juniors Mia Caccitolo, Amanda Hansen, Elise Heneghan and Mira Schwanke were all key contributors, while sophomores Cam Brusca and Kailyn McHugh along with freshman Grace Kapsch also saw valuable minutes.
In addition, the Friars will also see Audrey Hinrichs return. One of the state’s top post players during her first two years, the junior missed this season due to injury.
With such a large number of returnees, Power is eagerly looking forward to next season — one during which he likely will reach 1,000 wins in his career.
“We certainly did see glimpses of some really good things to come,” he said.
After starting 0-6, the Blazers finished up strong by winning six of their final eight games, including back-to-back victories over Fenwick at the end of the season — 59-46 on March 11, followed by a 49-48 overtime thriller on March 13.
“It’s been up and down,” said head coach Kim Coleman. “I don’t think our record reflects just how good we are this year. But we’re blessed to be able to have had a season.”
Makiyah Williams, who will play at Marquette in the fall, capped a stellar four-year career by named as a nominee for the McDonald’s All-American Game. Williams led Trinity in scoring and rebounding.
Coleman credited Williams and classmates Savanna Childress and Maddie Miller for laying the foundation for the Blazers’ future success.
“Maddie’s leadership and willingness to put the team first has been next level,” she said. “Savanna has been a glue in our program since she was a freshman. And obviously Makiyah has been a huge asset. Hopefully she earns the GCAC Player of the Year. We’re going to miss them.”
However, Trinity has two good starters to rebuild around in freshman Lauren Miller (Maddie’s younger sister) and sophomore Cierra Richardson. Top reserves Maeve Lundt and Sophia Rodriguez will also return for the Blazers.
“We have a lot of young players who are going to make some noise in our conference, and we’re excited to put (our team) together in the offseason,” said Coleman.