Jason Nichols understands the baggage that comes with carrying five freshmen on a varsity roster.
"There's a lot of Advil involved," the Montini coach said, "because they give you a headache. You have to have patience, which is one of my weaknesses."
All that being said, Nichols wouldn't keep the freshmen on varsity if they didn't have talent or couldn't handle the mental strain.
Montini is one of a few of the area's top teams banking on freshmen to take on significant complementary roles.
At Benet, which graduated four of its five starters, freshman Kathleen Doyle is starting at point guard. Early returns indicate that Doyle is not only a skilled player but seems to possess savvy beyond her years. Even when Doyle makes mistakes, you seem to get the idea that her intentions were wise. Doyle scored 11 points against Naperville Central last week, Benet's only loss.
"She's very talented," Benet coach Peter Paul said. "We're glad to have her."
At Neuqua Valley, freshman guards Myia Starks and Kai Moon are two of the the first kids Mike Williams brings in off the bench. Starks scored 8 points in Neuqua's win over Geneva, showing her skills with an acrobatic circus shot late over two taller defenders.
Nobody, though, is playing more freshmen than Nichols.
He is bringing freshmen Lea Kerstein, Tiara Wallace, Claire Jakaitis, Paulina Castro and Emily Cochrane off his bench. Kerstein, who comes in with a reputation as a big-time shooter, made just 1-of-11 3-point attempts in a season opener against Glenbrook South but four days later hit a huge 3 in a comeback win over Wheaton Warrenville South.
It comes with the territory.
"Freshmen will give you signs of why you have them up on varsity, and then signs of why they are 14-year-old kids," Nichols said. "It's a roller-coaster ride. The best ones are the ones who can straighten things out."
Playing freshmen is nothing new to Nichols.
Two years ago, then-freshmen Sara Ross, Kateri Stone and Kelly Karlis came off the bench for a repeat state champion. Just as significant, they were tested every day in practice by the likes of Whitney Holloway.
A year later as sophomores, those three were leading Montini to a third title. Now they are the veterans.
The grind of practice, often overlooked, shouldn't be. Nichols noted that freshmen are used to going 90 minutes twice a week with their middle school or AAU team. In high school that is ramped up to two hours daily, 5-6 days a week.
In the end, though, it can pay off.
"The benefits aren't always shown right away, but sometimes it is," Nichols said. "The beauty is what comes out the next couple years."
Transfers give and take:
When Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum watches Cierra Stanciel, he is reminded of what an assistant said of a former player some 20 years ago.
"She said, 'I'd like to be that quick, just for 10 seconds, just to know what it's like,'" Nussbaum recalled. "Cierra just has super quick hands."
Stanciel indeed has been quite an addition.
The sophomore guard, who transferred from Joliet Catholic, has given the Redhawks the kind of speed and athletic ability they perhaps haven't had in years. Stanciel went to junior high in Naperville and showed up again over the summer. She had a huge impact in Saturday's win over Metea Valley with 12 points and 8 steals.
"I didn't know who she was over the summer," Nussbaum said, "but pretty much right away (Jamie) Cuny and (Victoria) Trowbridge had big smiles on their face. It was like Christmas in July."
Transfers, both coming and going, are making their presence felt on area programs and other teams just outside DuPage County.
Metea Valley sophomore point guard Nia Flowers, who played at Montini as a freshman, has been the Mustangs' leading scorer in three of their first six games. Diamond Thompson, another one of four kids who left Montini, gives Wheaton Warrenville South a nice 6-foot-4 presence it didn't have before.
Like Montini, Neuqua Valley's depth has been compromised with four transfers leaving since last midseason. Three of them went to Bolingbrook, which also added ex-Oswego East player Aysia Bugg to a roster depleted by graduation. And at Plainfield East, the addition of Montini transfer Nikia Edom to touted sophomore Faith Suggs makes the Bengals a factor in the area Class 4A sectional.
A Hinsdale-Hinsdale shootout:
Fans in Darien were treated to quite the 1-on-1 offensive show when Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South hooked up.
Hornets senior Toni Romiti rang up 38 points on 10 3-pointers, but Hinsdale Central sophomore Gabrielle Rush's 32 points helped the Red Devils to a 58-48 win. Both point totals were personal highs.
"It was an amazing display," Hinsdale Central coach Tom McKenna said.
Romiti's previous best was 29 against Lemont her sophomore year. She scored all 13 of her team's points in the second quarter, including a buzzer-beater from near halfcourt, and all 11 of Hinsdale South's total in the third.
"We had a good player guarding her," McKenna said, "but she was unconscious."
Both girls had 27 points through three quarters. Rush's previous best was 29, in her high school debut last year vs. Naperville Central. Rush was aided by Lily Sarros' 14 points and 15 rebounds. Sarros later scored 20 against Stagg and 21 vs. Sandburg as Hinsdale Central won the four-team tournament.
"They're a nice combo to have," McKenna said. "It was great for us psychologically to win the (tournament), a big confidence boost."
IHSA playoff basketball sites:
Playoff assignments won't be announced until mid-December, but the IHSA has released the regional, sectional and supersectional sites.
WW South is hosting a regional that feeds into a Class 4A sectional at Bartlett, the supersectional site yet to be determined. Metea Valley and Benet are both hosting regionals, with the corresponding sectional at Oswego and supersectional at Hinsdale Central. In Class 3A Wheaton Academy is hosting a regional that feeds into a sectional at Nazareth, with the supersectional at Hinsdale Central. And in Class 2A Immaculate Conception is a regional host with the sectional at Lisle.