Sean Masoncup has been waiting for this week to come for a long time.
On Monday afternoon, he prepared to put his team through a rigorous practice session during the first official day of high school girls basketball practice at St. Charles North.
"I've been pretty excited throughout the summer -- and finally it's here," said Masoncup, who is in first season as the North Stars' girls varsity basketball coach. "It seems like the longest day of my life today."
After spending the past 8 seasons as the boys sophomore basketball coach -- 3 years at St. Charles East and the last 5 years at St. Charles North -- Masoncup has patiently waited his turn to become a head basketball coach at the varsity level.
Now he's getting his chance.
"It has always been one of the goals of my career -- to run a program," said Masoncup, 35. "Being in St. Charles, I didn't want to leave St. Charles. When this (opportunity) came up it was definitely something I wanted to take advantage of.
"I'm lucky enough to walk into a girls program that has some great girls," he said. "We're really looking forward to it."
Masoncup, who has coached boys varsity tennis at Geneva and St. Charles North, served as the girls varsity tennis coach at Oswego for a season while he was a student-teacher.
Is there a big difference coaching girls after coaching boys?
"The thing that I tell everybody is girls basketball is a lot similar to what I've done my entire career as a sophomore boys basketball coach," said Masoncup. "The game isn't played above the rim and the girls are so coachable -- not that the boys weren't coachable -- but the difference is that they (girls) will try to do anything that you ask."
Masoncup, who teaches at Haines Middle School, finds a big advantage to the familiarity he feels at St. Charles North.
"It's a new start at the same school I've been coaching at," said Masoncup, a 1997 graduate of Geneva who played basketball and tennis during his high school days. "And the majority of girls I had as students back in middle school."
Masoncup inherits a program that has struggled for victories the past few seasons.
Playing a rugged schedule that included tournament stops at York and Dundee-Crown, the North Stars compiled a 17-41 record the past 2 seasons after former coach Colleen Backer had guided the team to a 36-25 mark in her first two years at the helm.
In Backer's defense, the North Stars were one of the area's youngest teams last season with more freshmen and sophomores (5) than seniors (4) on the varsity roster.
And they'll likely be young again this time around.
"There's a chance we could start two sophomores and three juniors -- that's a young team," said Masoncup, whose roster figures to include juniors Nicole Davidson and Sam Novak, and sophomores Kyla Helsel and Morgan Rosencrants.
"I think our age is going to benefit us because I don't think they feel any pressure," said Masoncup. "Whatever we accomplish this year is a bonus."
Wins and losses aside, the North Stars should be an entertaining team to watch.
"We're going to step on the court and play the style of basketball that I have been around and try to get better each game," Masoncup said of his team's anticipated up-tempo, pressing approach. "If you can create turnovers, it will lead to your offense.
"We definitely have depth," added the coach. "The girls are going to have to learn to play more than one position."
It's a style that players are looking forward to being a part of.
"The up-tempo pace -- I love it," said Rosencrants, a 6-foot-1 center. "It's tough but it's worth it. I think we'll be running a lot more and I know we'll be in really good shape."
Rosencrants learned plenty as a freshman playing varsity ball last season.
"Defense wins championships," she said. "It definitely helps you win games."
Although Masoncup admittedly is still learning about the strengths and weaknesses of opposing area girls basketball teams, he is eager to get things going.
"For the first time in my coaching career I'm really not concerned -- I'm more excited about the next chapter of my career and being able to work with these girls," he said.
Masoncup will also lean heavily upon a coaching staff that includes veterans and a pair of former North Stars players.
"Alex Messacar is our freshman coach," said Masoncup. "She went on to play at Lake Forest. Caitlin Winkelman is also on our staff. She was one of the first 3-sport athletes here at North and went on to play soccer at Augustana.
"It's great to have two girls who are going to bleed this program," said the coach. "That's what we're trying to instill in these girls -- that dedication.
"Grant Oler is our sophomore coach and Jeff Otterby is our varsity assistant. He has 15 years of experience coaching girls basketball."
Masoncup will also draw upon his past experiences as he takes over the helm.
"The great thing is I've watched and learned from three varsity coaches -- Kevin Schnable (Oswego), Brian Clodi (St. Charles East) and Tom Poulin here (St. Charles North)," he said. "I've seen three different ways in how to deal with a team.
"All of them are molded into what I've become. I even have a little bit of (former Geneva coach Tim) Pease from back when I played and how well he treated his players."
St. Charles North opens its season on Nov. 22 against Neuqua Valley at the York Holiday Invite in Elmhurst.
"It's going to take patience," said Masoncup. "We need to build this program to where year in and year out it's a success. It's like the fourth sport here now -- it's soccer, softball, volleyball and then basketball. My goal is to change that. I want basketball to become as important as every other sport."
Masoncup is looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.
"I've done everything I can to get to this point," he said. "I'm finally ready."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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