2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 1/6/2011 9:54 PM

Despite difficult season, McKenna feeling rejuvenated

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Tom McKenna does not sound like the coach of a 1-15 team.

His bouncy tone of voice belies that of a 63-year-old basketball lifer.

All McKenna has known is winning. He won 407 games in 23 years at St. Ignatius, winning records in all but two of them.

All Hinsdale Central has known is winning. Twenty consecutive seasons above .500, in fact, and the winningest program in DuPage County the last decade.

Neither coach nor school has experienced a season like this.

"It's like a perfect storm -- whatever can go wrong has gone wrong," said McKenna, in his first season on the Hinsdale Central sidelines.

McKenna knew he'd be starting almost from scratch.

Graduated off last year's team was Daily Herald All-Area captain Toni Kokenis, the school's all-time leading scorer now at Stanford. Gone also was Adabelle Ekechukwu, Hinsdale Central's career rebounding leader.

McKenna did not expect to lose his top returning scorer Maggie Brennan to a badly broken finger the season's second game.

Misfortune has continued to shadow Hinsdale Central.

Proviso West beat the Red Devils on a last-second 3-pointer by a kid who missed her other 12 shots.

Against Willowbrook second-leading scorer Avery Anderson fouled out with four minutes left, whistled for the foul despite being 10 feet away from the play.

Christine Rush was a breakout star at the Wheaton North tournament, averaging 25.8 points in four games, but with 15 minutes left in practice Monday she dislocated her knee.

Rush missed the next day's New Trier game. Another girl had a sprained ankle and a third the flu. Hinsdale Central dressed eight healthy players.

"It's kind of like a black cloud is following us around," McKenna said. "We are a lot better than our record indicates."

Nothing, though, can wipe the smile off McKenna's face. He is unshakeable in finding the silver lining.

Perhaps it is his players, whom he calls "fantastic."

Maybe it's a season away from the sidelines.

McKenna knew about 2-3 months after he called it quits at St. Ignatius after the 2008-09 season that he made a mistake.

A second chance came to him when Lindsey Montgomery, his former assistant at St. Ignatius, resigned at Hinsdale Central for personal reasons last spring.

McKenna coached against Montgomery when she played at Hinsdale Central and went to Notre Dame with Lindsey's dad.

"It's given me a whole new appreciation for a second act that you don't often get," said McKenna, still teaching English at St. Ignatius in his 31st year. "Stuff like this losing would bother me when I was younger. It gives you a better perspective. The kids are great and working as a team."

McKenna also draws energy from his assistants. Volunteer Morgan Kasperek starred for Hinsdale Central's 2002 state champions and coached the team two years ago when Steve Gross resigned.

Gia Navarra played for Hinsdale Central in 2004-05, then at North Central for four years. McKenna needed only a short chat at the Corner Bakery last summer to know he had a perfect assistant in the 23-year-old Navarra. McKenna is old enough to be her grandfather, but their synergy is spot-on.

"Two great role models for our girls," McKenna said. "You can't ask for better."

McKenna doesn't plan on retiring anytime soon. He hopes to coach 5-7 more years. He does not think it will be long before Hinsdale Central returns to the high standards already set. Feeding that belief is the Hinsdale Inferno youth program.

"We want to keep all the good Hinsdale players in Hinsdale," he said.

McKenna still thinks this group can do some damage. Brennan has seen an orthopedic surgeon and hopes to return soon. Rush is riding a bike in practice and could be back Saturday, worst-case scenario two weeks.

"We haven't lost faith," McKenna said. "These kids want to leave their own legacy, that they did not give up."