Haley Ream wasn't quite sure to think about the 2012-13 girls basketball season when her Huntley team began practice back in November.
Boy, did she end up pleasantly surprised.
"I walked in thinking it was just another year," Ream says. "Four of my best friends had graduated and I really miss them but even without them this was the best year of basketball ever."
Hard to argue with that, from Ream's standpoint or the Red Raiders' The 6-foot senior, Huntley's only senior starter, became the leader her team needed, the guiding force for a team that finished the season on the big stage of Redbird Arena in the IHSA Class 4A state finals.
For her efforts this season, Ream has been selected the honorary co-captain of the 2012-13 Daily Herald Fox Valley all-area team. She shares the award with senior Jessica Cerda of Streamwood.
"Even if we didn't go as far as we did, I've never been as close to a team as this one," said Ream, whose grandfather Ed won a regional title as Huntley's boys basketball coach in 1988. "It was an amazing feeling. We worked so hard together. Finishing with a bang was amazing. I wish I could rewind."
Ream, a three-sport athlete (volleyball and track), is a player who proves that stats aren't everything. With the Andrews sisters combining to average over 30 points per game, Huntley didn't need Ream to score a lot. The Raiders needed her to play tough defense above all, as well as being a calming influence on offense. Defensively down the stretch, she guarded such standouts as Rachel Torres of DeKalb, Streamwood's Cerda, and Meghan Waldron of Wheaton Warrenville South and came through a winner each night.
"She's someone who really leads by example on and off the court," said Huntley coach Steve Raethz. "She had great rapport with her teammates and they responded to her. She really brought along the younger kids and so many parts of her game had an impact on our team. Stats don't matter to her. She did whatever was needed to help our team. There were just so many intangibles she brough to our team. She rises to the challenge and accepts any challenge you give her.
"She's one of the most unselfish players I've ever coached," Raethz said. "She'd sacrifice her own offensive output for the greater good of the team. She has great vision and a great basketball IQ. She really has a great sense and feel for the game."
Ream did average 6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per game for the 26-8 Red Raiders, who set a school record for wins and brought home the program's first state trophy.
"My sophomore year we lost the first game of the sectional and I didn't realize how important it was," said Ream, a longtime Huntley Pioneers 4-H club member who raises and shows cattle and pigs as well as working a part-time job at Kostas in Algonquin. "This year I tried to stress as much as possible to play your hearts out."
Ream, who started playing basketball with the Huntley Park District in the third or fourth grade, takes pride in accomplishing for her team what her coaches wanted her to do.
"I'm mostly proud of my defense and my being vocal on the court," said the two-time all-area selection. "My game improved defensively and leading the team and we needed a leader this year."
Ream has many people to thank for her basketball career, but she singles out her parents, Heather Neiss and Ted Ream, and her coaches -- Raethz, Phil Leiterman and Brad Gillette.
"The first people would be my mom and dad," said Ream, who is deciding between Cardinal Stritch and Wisconsin-Platteville, where she will play basketball and study to be a veterinarian or a teacher. "My mom was my eighth grade coach and she's been there all the way through for me. My dad has always supported me and helped me with any decisions I had to make.
"And I love my coaches to death. They are so into the game and they care so much about everyone. They put up with me for four years and I've known them since I was in sixth grade. I couldn't have asked for better coaches. I learned a lot from them."
Raethz returns the praise to a student-athlete Huntley High School will miss in many ways.
"In my 14 years here she's the best leader we've had," Raethz said. "We're going to really miss all the things she brought to the team."
Which may be Huntley's loss, but whichever college Ream chooses will be getting a player and person who exemplifies the word captain.