Most teams bid a fond farewell to their home court on the day of their last regular season home game.
Lake Zurich instead circled the calendar and has been aiming for a return in a couple of weeks.
The Bears are in the unique position of hosting Lake County’s Class 4A sectional from March 11 to March 14. For most of the last 10 years, that job had been held by either Waukegan or Barrington.
“We found out in December and when our athletic director (Rolly Vazquez) asked me if I’d like to host, I thought he was talking about next year, because it was already so late,” Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said. “But I guess Barrington didn’t want it and the IHSA asked us to host and, of course, we said ‘Yes.’
“It would be great to get back to Lake Zurich. That’s what we talked about on senior night. We talked about how we didn’t want that to be our last home game.”
The last time Lake Zurich played home games in the sectional, the basketball program was at its peak. In 2005, the Bears were in the midst of their best season in school history. They advanced to the sectional championship game on their own floor before falling to Waukegan. Lake Zurich finished 27-2 that season, its last in the Fox Valley Conference.
Mike Kolze, a 2,000-point scorer for the Bears and Austin Scott, now an assistant coach at Lake Forest, were the big guns for Lake Zurich at the time.
“That was a great team and we’d like to get back to that,” Pitcher said. “We’re having a very good season this year. We’ve gotten the most wins since that 2005 team.”
Lake Zurich is currently 18-12, beating its win total of 17 from last season. The Bears earned the No. 7 seed in the sectional and will play in Tuesday’s regional semifinal (8 p.m.) at Hersey against the winner of Monday’s game between No. 10 Prospect and No. 23 Round Lake.
On the line:
Free throws tell Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher all he needs to know about much junior guard Mike Travlos has improved since last year.
It’s not necessarily that Travlos is making them at a better rate, it’s that he’s shooting them more often.
Travlos, the Bears’ leading scorer at about 19.5 points per game, has hit 166 free throws (that’s made free throws) over the season, which is almost six per game.
“Mike has worked so hard on his aggressiveness and his ability to get to the basket and that’s made him tougher to guard this year,” Pitcher said. “He was a good scorer last year but he liked to score from deep.
“This season he’s getting to the basket so much better. And he’s more under control than he was last year. Sometimes when you go to the basket and you’re out of control, the refs won’t call fouls even if there’s contact. Mike is really good at having that body control and drawing those fouls.”
More for fun:
Two days after the pairings came out for the state tournament, Grant’s destination game at the Bradley Center against McHenry became even more intriguing.
Grant just happened to draw McHenry in the first round of the state tournament. The two teams will face off at 7 p.m. Monday on McHenry’s home floor.
In Milwaukee, Grant wound up winning the prelude 58-51.
“Our guys might have gotten a little bit of confidence from that, but honestly, I thing both teams held a lot of cards to their vests,” Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. “Not a lot was shown in that game in Milwaukee. For our guys, it was mostly a chance to get a feel for their players and what they like to do.
“But we also really wanted to make sure that our guys enjoyed the experience. We’ve never done anything like that before. Our kids had a blast. They loved it and it was an awesome environment. It was a really good program-building experience. We want to make this a yearly thing.”
The Bulldogs would also like to keep their hot streak going. They’ve won three of their last four games, tying their best stretch of the season.
“We’re playing our best basketball of the season right now,” said Bosworth, who is getting double-figure scoring averages out of Ryan Noda, Steve Dunning and Mike Burns and about 9 points per game out of Matt Malmberg. “We’re rebounding really well, we’re putting up better shots, we’re starting to trust each other more and we’re playing more as a team.”
Grayslake Central guard Charlie Anderson was all over the place last season, and head coach Brian Moe feels bad about that.
“Last year, for whatever reason, I don’t know if it was coaching or what, but we just never got our roles established,” Moe said of the Rams’ 5-win campaign. “It was tough for Charlie because sometimes he started, sometimes not. Sometimes he was point guard, sometimes not. I think he had a hard time knowing what to do on a consistent basis.”
That isn’t a problem this season, and Anderson is thriving. He’s a full-time starter and mostly serving as an off guard for the Rams. Because he’s not as responsible for handling the ball, Anderson gets to set up perfectly for what he does best.
“Charlie is a great spot-up shooter,” Moe said of Anderson, who is averaging a team-best 11 points per game. “He can create on his own a little bit, but his real strength is knocking down shots, and he’s gotten a chance to do that more this season.
“We’ve got Joey Mudd and Malcolm Reed at point and that allows Charlie to get open for those jump shots. After last year, the interesting thing about Charlie is that he’s become our most consistent player this year. He knows his role this year.”
Strength in numbers:
Many coaches like to keep their main rotation tight, to about seven or eight players.
Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe is usually one of those coaches. But he changed his tune this year when he realized that he was going to have to significantly speed up the Rams’ games.
“We have two guys Jack Beckman (6-foot-4) and Alex Lennartz (6-foot-2) who are over 6-feet. Everyone else is under 6-feet,” Moe said. “We’re not a big team so we knew that we would have to push the ball and keep the game fast. To do that, we needed to play at least 10 kids.”
The change in philosophy paid off. Grayslake Central, which won just five games last season, has won 15 games and clinched the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division title last week with an 11-1 record.
Reserves Matt Loeffl, Jacob Vargo, Michael Benko, David Llorens and Beckman have given Grayslake Central a level of depth most teams can’t match.
“There was a stretch of four to five games where our second group came in and stretched four- or five-point leads to 11 or 12 points,” Moe said. “They’ve played very well this year and they’ve been very important to us. It was a slow process at first of me being able to let go (of the traditional seven- or eight-man rotation) and them earning that trust. But it happened for us and those kids have really earned their playing time. They’ve worked their butts off.”