Denise Sarna will be the first to admit it's been a little different around the Bartlett gym this season for the Hawks' girls basketball program.
Coming off a 32-2 season that culminated with a third-place finish at the Class 4A finals at Redbird Arena, Sarna knew this would be a rebuilding season. And it's not like she hasn't been there before. Despite the fact the veteran coach lived the luxury of a 98-25 record the past four years, not to mention the 30-5 state runner-up season of 2004-05, she's also been on the other end of the record in her career. Her Streamwood teams won 20 games in 5 years and her first Bartlett team was 1-27.
So it's not hard for Sarna to keep things in perspective when it comes to her 2012-13 team. After all, the Hawks graduated their top eight players and the girl with the most varsity experience on this year's team is senior transfer Alyssa Hernandez, who came over from Lake Park but missed significant time at the start of the season with an injury.
"The kids are very inexperienced and we've just been trying to build confidence and get better every day," said Sarna, whose team dropped to 4-5 with a 47-32 loss to undefeated Neuqua Valley Tuesday night. "They need more guidance this year. It's just a different part of coaching and I like it. I'm not going to say the losses and the mistakes aren't frustrating but it's a challenge and it's been a joy to see them working hard to get better every day. We're progressing."
Having the 6-foot-2 Hernandez healthy has been a boost for the Hawks, who took their lumps against top teams Huntley, Naperville Central and Benet without her.
"Alyssa's healthy now and that really helps us," Sarna said. "But the kids who filled in for her did a good job despite their lack of experience."
Sarna has been especially pleased with the play of 5-9 junior Ally Giampapa, 5-6 junior Ashley Johnson and 6-1 Kelly Harris, one of four freshmen on the varsity roster.
"Ally's had a nice start," said Sarna, whose team plays at South Elgin Thursday night. "She's been shooting well. Ashley Johnson is a real hustle player and Kelly Harris filled in very nicely for a freshman when Alyssa was out. Elizabeth Arco, one of the players who does have some experience, has been coming on now too after battling an injury.
"We've had a lot of kids make a lot of contributions. We just need to find some consistency."
Good day for D300: Hampshire coach Ed Haugens was just glad to be back in the gym on Wednesday. The one-day District 300 teachers strike meant Haugens' Whip-Purs didn't have to wait long to get back to work on their game plan for getting into the win column. And even though Hampshire is off to an uncharacteristic 0-7 start to the season, Haugens remains confident about his group.
"I'm so happy for the kids," said Haugens of the short-lived strike. "They put in the time and the work and the effort and I'm just happy we're back at it and playing basketball. I've got a big smile on my face today."
The Whip-Purs' game at Crystal Lake Central was postponed Tuesday due to the strike, so Hampshire's next chance to crack the win column will be Friday at Grayslake Central in a Fox Valley Conference Fox Division game against a 4-4 Rams team that beat Cary-Grove, but became St. Charles North's first win Tuesday.
"The girls are improving and doing better at practice every day," said Haugens of his team, which has been led offensively by senior Jen Dumoulin. "I'm very positive about this group. We're taking baby steps right now and hopefully it will all come together. I really like this group. They work hard and now we just need the chemistry to come around."
Saturday, the Whips, who have lost 4 of their 7 games by less than 10 points, travel to rival Burlington Central for the Rockets' annual Pack the Place night. On Rocket Hill, the Whips will take on a 4-1 BC team that caught Haugens' eye at the Dundee-Crown summer league.
"(BC coach Mark Smith) inherited a great group of freshmen over there," Haugens said. "You have to give (former BC coach, Hampshire grad and current NIU graduate assistant) Stephanie Smith a lot of credit. She really put a lot of time into the feeder program when she was there and it's paying off now."
Charger Classic looking tough: As the season unfolds and more games are played, it looks like the field for the 30th annual Charger Classic at Dundee-Crown could be one of the more balanced in recent years. Barrington (7-2) and Maine South (8-1) have joined the field this year, replacing Fremd and Regina Dominican.
Always tough Fenwick (7-0) is off to another hot start as is Evanston (8-0), which knocked off Maine South Tuesday night. Prospect (6-2) is proving to be a formidable opponent and New Trier (4-2) can never be counted out. Naperville Central (7-1) fell from the unbeaten ranks Tuesday with an overtime loss to Wheaton South. Hononegah is 6-1 after a 10-point win over Rockford Boylan and Resurrection is off to a 5-2 start.
Bartlett (4-5) is the defending champion. The tournament runs Dec. 26-29 in Carpentersville.
Weekend outlook: In addition to the Bartlett at South Elgin game highlighting the Thursday night schedule, it's a busy weekend all the way around. The Fox Valley Conference plays a full round of games on Friday and the Upstate Eight is at it Saturday, in addition to the Hampshire at Burlington Central Pack the Place game. Also on Saturday, Crystal Lake South will play at CL Central in their annual rivalry game.
And next week: A big Upstate Eight River game is on tap Tuesday when St. Charles East visits Streamwood. The Sabres (7-1, 3-0) will get little rest from that game as they travel to Geneva the next night.
Reschedule: Hampshire's game at Crystal Lake Central that was postponed Tuesday by the District 300 teachers strike, will be played at 5 p.m. on Jan. 21 in Crystal Lake. The Jacobs at Dundee-Crown game postponed Tuesday is expected to be rescheduled still this week.
Postseason news: The IHSA has released sites for the 2013 state tournament series and there will be plenty of action in the Fox Valley that ultimately will help decide who plays at Redbird Arena in March.
Dundee-Crown will host a Class 4A supersectional on Feb. 25 that will pit the winner of the Bartlett sectional against the winner of the Rockford East sectional. Regional sites feeding into the Bartlett sectional include Elk Grove, Schaumburg, St. Charles East and Wheaton Warrenville South, while the four regionals feeding to the Rockford East sectional will be played at Belvidere North, Crystal Lake South, Rockford Auburn and Streamwood.
In Class 3A, Burlington Central will host a regional that feeds into the Genoa-Kingston sectional, and in Class 1A Harvest Christian hosts a regional that will send its champion just down Randall Road for the Westminster Christian sectional.
The Class 1A and 2A postseason begins Feb. 4, with Class 3A and 4A following a week later.
Kudos: Congrats goes out today to former Elgin High boys basketball coach Jim Harrington on receiving the Buzzy O'Connor Award for lifetime contributions to the game from the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. It's a well deserved honor for Harrington, who coached three Maroon teams downstate and comes at a fitting time as he will retire from a 40-year teaching career at the end of the current school year.
Congrats also go out to former Larkin boys coach Ken Johnson, who the IBCA will induct as Friend of Basketball. Johnson coached the Royals in the 1970s and had some epic battles with his brother Ron at St. Charles, legendary Elgin coach Bill Chesbrough, Ernie Kivisto at East Aurora and John McDougall at West Aurora, among others. And today's little known fact: The Johnson's mother, Erma, was my elementary school principal.