While Aurora Central Catholic has enjoyed a fast start this year at 5-1, one problem the Chargers have had has been rebounding.
That turned into a major problem Saturday night against relentless Wheaton Academy senior Brandon Ruggles and the rest of his Warrior teammates.
Ruggles scratched and clawed his way to 19 rebounds and the Warriors beat the Chargers to the ball all night in a 66-51 victory in Aurora.
Wheaton Academy (7-1, 2-0 in the Suburban Christian Conference) pulled down 20 offensive rebounds as part of their 52-29 edge.
"It's been one of our trademarks all season is we've been a dominate team on the glass," Wheaton Academy coach Paul Ferguson said. "We thought we could go out and get a lot of offensive rebounds against their zone."
Aurora Central Catholic (5-2, 1-1) also had its hands full with 6-foot-8 Gordon Behr who grabbed 9 rebounds and Cole Fritz who came off the bench to pull down 8, but it was the 6-3 Ruggles who had 9 rebounds in the first quarter alone as he repeatedly outworked the Chargers.
"I just love rebounding," Ruggles said. "Ever since I was a sophomore it's just been a focus of mine.
"I used to be just be a shoot-first guy, then my sophomore year I had a coach who turned it around for me. He turned me into a physical player and now I get irritated if I don't get the rebound when the shot goes up. I've learned to read it and my teammates do a great job clearing everybody else out there so it's just me and one or two other guys, and it's easy."
That sophomore coach was Doug Rushing when Ruggles played at Wheaton Warrenville South. Ruggles sat out last year as a transfer but didn't slow down, instead putting on 20 pounds of muscle in the weight room.
The extra strength only makes him tougher on the glass.
"He (Rushing) completely turned me into a rebounder, he was a great coach," Ruggles said. "Coach Ferguson has continued to push me, told me my biggest job on the team is to rebound and I've just embraced that role. I love it."
The Chargers made just 2 of 13 shots from the field in the first quarter to fall behind 13-7. They pulled even once at 25-25 in the second quarter when Phil Schuetz stepped in the passing lane for a steal he took the other way for a layup.
Leading 28-25 at halftime, the Warriors forced 5 turnovers early in the third quarter as part of a 10-0 run that opened up a double-digit lead they held the rest of the game.
Collin Roy extended the lead when he made three straight 3-pointers in the first 75 seconds of the fourth quarter, the final one making it 52-37. The Chargers got within 56-46 when Schuetz again came up with a steal that this time he took in for a dunk, but it was too little, too late.
Roy (19 points), Behr (15) and Ruggles (11) all reached double figures in scoring for the Warriors while Anthony Andujar scored 11 and Schuetz 10 for the Chargers.
"We didn't play well tonight, we didn't shoot well, we never got a run together," Chargers coach Nate Drye said. "They played tougher than us. We weren't tough enough tonight. We're better than that. We kind of feed on that 3-point shot and it kind of sucked the life out of us when we couldn't get any to go down."
Andujar and Sean Anger led the Chargers with 8 rebounds.
"I just think you have to go get it," Drye said. "They went and got the ball and we didn't go get it. Rebounding is effort. We stand and watch while the other team goes and gets it. We've been getting murdered on the glass all year but we've been shooting the ball well enough we've overcome that."