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As the Elk Grove girls basketball coach, Ryan Kirkorsky's teams went against a team with three of the state's top players the last two seasons.
His Grenadiers faced Rolling Meadows' juniors Alexis Glasgow, Jackie Kemph and Jenny Vliet twice each season.
In quite the rarity, Kirkorsky has become the Mustangs' new coach for his fifth season as a head coach in District 214.
"After competing against the three of them the last two years, it was clear how talented they are," Kirkorsky said. "Now that I've had an opportunity to work with them, I'm even more impressed."
And why not?
All three are being recruited by Division I programs one season after leading Rolling Meadows to its first Mid-Suburban League championship and finest record (25-5) in school history.
"They sacrifice a great amount of time to improve their game," Kirkorsky said. "They are tremendous role models for the girls basketball program (and the school) because they demonstrate on a daily basis that if you want to excel at something, you have to have passion, you have to work, and you can't cut corners.
"And even more impressive is the fact that they are multisport athletes, exceptional students, and school leaders."
Here is a closer look at the three juniors.
Alexis Glasgow: Playing soccer her entire childhood, Glasgow became close with neighborhood athletes. Around third grade, the group of friends got together and decided to give basketball a try.
By fifth grade, they formed the first fifth-grade Rolling Meadows feeder team.
After their eighth-grade season, the team had lost two games in four seasons of feeder play, and even won a few AAU tournaments.
Glasgow went on to play for the AAU team, Midwest Elite, and her love for the game multiplied.
"Being alongside some of the best players in the country every day at practice isn't easy, but it has pushed me to earn my spot at every practice," she said. "This motto of never having anything handed to me has translated into my high school course work and athletic play. You have to work hard at what you do every day to succeed."
Glasgow sure did and it helped lead to the MSL title last season.
One of the top 3-point shooters in the state as a sophomore, Glasgow (12.3 ppg, 41. rebounds, 1.4 steals) tossed home 58 3's, including 6 in the first half of a win against Prospect.
"This year we have agreed to set extremely high goals for ourselves," Glasgow said. "To repeat as MSL champions is one of those goals. We are no longer the "young team" and walk into this season with a huge target on our back. Every game, big or small, we will have to step on the court ready to make a statement and prove ourselves in every game we play."
Glasgow said the recruiting process has been a "very exciting and enjoyable" process.
Nine Division I schools have made scholarships offers.
"I have been very fortunate," Glasgow said. "During my visits to the Big Ten, Big East, Patriot League and various mid-major universities, I was able to see that each one of these universities had something different to offer."
Now Glasgow must make her choice.
"The next step is a big one," she said. "One that begins my journey into adulthood and I am lucky that I get to choose between great schools."
Bucknell, Loyola, Bradley, Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Valparaiso and Wisconsin -Milwaukee are showing strong interest. Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Rutgers, Florida and Pepperdine have also contacted Glasgow.
"Talking to all of these coaches has been great and learning that they are kind, wonderful people, as well as the great leaders that I have watched on TV has been an exhilarating experience," she said. "I know how lucky I am and am very thankful."
Jackie Kemph: Kemph started playing basketball around third grade with the Arlington Heights Park District.
She was coached by her father Rich in the Arlington Heights Youth Basketball Association.
"I really loved the game after growing up watching my brother (Richie) play and after playing with my feeder team coached by Mr. Vliet," Jackie said. "He pushed us hard but it was definitely worth it when we see where we are today."
Kemph, the MSL East Player of the Year as a sophomore, helped the Mustangs get where they are today.
Kemph was the quarterback for the Mustangs as they won their first Mid-Suburban League championship, leading the team with 15.6 points, while connecting on 50.1 percent from the field. She also shot 35 percent from 3-point range (29) and 80.1 from the free throw line. Kemph averaged 4.3 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals per game.
She can't wait to help her team defend its crown.
"It's great playing with the same group of girls," she said. " I love being with my sister Allie again and all my friends like Katie Shewmon, Sami Kay, Elizabeth V, Chloe P, and of course Lex and Jen. We really are a family."
In a few years, Kemph's new family will likely be with a Division I program.
"The recruiting process is great," Kemph said. "It's nice to see the hard work pay off. Dealing with the coaches is great and all the help from my AAU coach Tom Hohenadel makes it even better."
But for the next two years, she is concentrating on her high school team.
"Being the defending MSL champs is like playing with a target on our backs," Kemph said. "We are no longer the underdog. We are expected to play hard. I feel like we are ready for this challenge."
Kemph said the Mustangs are pushing harder at practice because they must keep improving to continue their winning ways.
"It adds a lot of pressure but I know every one on this team is up for the challenge," Kemph said. "Everyone works hard at practice because we all want to get to that MSL championship again -- and this time, on our floor."
Jenny Vliet: We played for the south middle school basketball team where we went undefeated our 8th grade year and only lost one game our 7th grade year.
Vliet grew up watching her older twin siblings, Kirsten and Erik, playing basketball in the Arlington Heights Youth Basketball Association. Kirsten played at the feeder level and the high school level.
"I went to every single one of her games and fell in love with the intensity and speed of the game," said Jenny, who started playing basketball in second grade on the Arlington Heights Park District team.
Jenny played AHYBA until fifth grade and then started playing feeder basketball. Her mom organized the first fifth-grade feeder team at Rolling Meadows.
"So we were able to get started a year earlier," Jenny said "I played with Jackie and Alexis on this team as well as Allie Kemph, Chloe Prodonovic, Sami Kay, Katie Shewmon, and Elizabeth Vasilogambros."
That same group of girls were members of South Middle School basketball team. They were undefeated as eighth graders and lost only once in seventh grade.
Jenny's father, Matt, coached all of the feeder teams.
"I credit my competitive edge to my dad for taking our feeder team to AAU tournaments in the off-season," Jenny said. "He always said, 'when you're not in the gym and working on your game, someone else is.' "
In sixth grade, Vliet started playing the Full Package Athletics AAU team in addition to feeder.
As a freshman, she made the Meadows' varsity team and played the following spring for the Illinois Elite coached by Tom Hohenadel.
With her averages of 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals and 50 50 3-point baskets, Vliet helped lead the Mustangs to the MSL crown last season which included a 52-51 overtime win at Fremd in the championship game.
She hopes its not her last title.
"I'm ready for another one," said Vliet, also a talented volleyball setter and attacker. "It feels awesome that we cannot be called the underdogs anymore. Everyone on the team is so psyched to get back into things and get those first wins under our belt."
Many of the returning Mustangs worked hard this off-season.
" I think we have all the components to get another title this season," Vliet said. "Morgan Keller is back from her knee injury and we are seeing great play from our other players -- Ashley Montanez, Katie Shewmon, Elizabeth Vasilogambros, Allie Kemph, Sami Kay and Chloe Prodonovic. We may have the target on our backs this year, but we are ready for anything that's thrown our way."
Colleges, meanwhile, are throwing themselves at Vliet. She is in the middle of an expansive recruiting process.
"I honestly love it," she said. "All the coaches are so friendly and welcoming. It is fun to see all the different campuses and programs around the country."
While she admits it can be a little overwhelming sometimes with the emails and letters, Vliet is getting plenty of support.
"My AAU coach, high school coach, and parents have been awesome with helping me manage it all," Vliet said. "It is a true blessing to get to visit all these schools to find the one that fits me best. It's great to have (Glasgow and Kemph) in the same boat so we can all help each other out."