If last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Fenwick, then the sky is the limit this year.
Fronted mostly by freshmen who saw significant playing time last season, the Friars won 34 games, took home their 10th consecutive East Suburban Catholic Conference title, finished third at State and ultimately changed the definition of an "off year."
Now they're all back and prepped to return to what has become a familiar locale for the Fenwick girls' basketball program: Bloomington-Normal, home of the Class AA State tournament. In the last five years, the Friars have won a State title (2000), finished second at State (2002), and finished third at State twice (last season, and 1999). In that span, the program has won 169 games and lost only 15. With all but two players returning this year, it's likely this will be the program's sixth consecutive season with 30 or more wins.
Brittanny Johnson steps into the role as floor leader and the most experienced player now that Kristin Heidloff is tearing up the court at Georgetown. Johnson, who is mulling over accepting an offer from either Boston University or the University of Massachusetts, averaged nine points per game last season after coming off an ACL injury her sophomore year.
"She'll be the command center," said Fenwick head coach Dave Power of his senior guard.
The team will receive additional guidance from fellow seniors Meghan Mulhern and Megan Musselman, who is currently out with an ACL tear suffered during summer camp.
Alison Jackson (5-foot-11-inches), Devereaux Peters (6-2) and Samantha Woods (6-3) are back to reprise their roles as young but stalwart forces inside. Jackson and Woods both started as freshmen last year. Jackson averaged nine points. The three will see expanded playing time with the unfortunate but temporary loss of starter Maggie Kloak, who tore her ACL playing lacrosse in the off season. Kloak, a 6-1 junior lefty who played center last season, could be back by Christmas.
Fenwick's depth is so abysmal that the short-term loss of two players isn't too much of a concern for Power.
"We don't have to look for just one replacement. We do it by committee," Power quipped.
The highly successful coach can make jokes when he has led the program to 10 straight winning seasons, and this season has the resources of yet another proven young contingency in Colleen Kelly, Krissy Harper, and Bria Jordan, who won their conference at the sophomore level last season.
Power said he's also going to use daughter Erin and Trinity transfer Andrea DiCanio significantly this year. Erin played in 17 games as a freshman last year. DiCanio followed her uncle, head football coach Joe DiCanio, to Fenwick this year.
As in year's past, Fenwick's schedule is "monstrous," said Power. The Friars will again take on such notable opponents as Benet, Marian, Carmel, and Marist, along with the opportunity to play New Trier at the Dundee Crown Holiday tournament. The Trevians edged the Friars from their State title run in the semifinals last season.
Toss in some teams from Indiana, Wisconsin, and the Public League, and Fenwick's season will be long and rigorous. But that's never stopped them before.
"I never feel any of my teams have an opportunity to go undefeated," said Power. "I think we have a great chance in returning to the State tourney, and the tough schedule we play leads us down that path."
Or up the path.
The Friars open against Fremd at the Niles North tournament on Friday at 7:30 p.m.