Just because Thanksgiving is in the recent rearview mirror doesn't mean folks can't talk about what they are grateful for.
In the case of Huntley graduate Ali Andrews, it's the opportunity she's getting to play NCAA Division I women's college basketball at the University of Illinois.
"It's something you work for your whole life," she said. "I am grateful I am able to play what I like to do."
And it shows.
Andrews, the 2015-16 Honorary Co-Captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley All-Area team, recently dropped in a career-high 26 points on the strength of 6 of 8 3-point shooting in the Fighting Illini's 68-67 victory over Wichita State at the UNM Thanksgiving tournament.
"At times they were quiet, I didn't realize it," first-year Illinois coach Nancy Fahey told the school's athletic website regarding Andrews' career day. "At one point, I knew she was knocking down shots and we tried to get her the ball a few times, but a lot of those were hers. Those were hustle points. She did a great job."
Andrews, part of an Illinois team that was off to a 5-2 start through midweek, said part of her improvement this season stems from conditioning.
"Our weight-training and conditioning have helped me get in shape and be stronger on the court," she said. "This year we run a lot more. There is a lot more conditioning. I feel more slim and am able to get up and down the court."
It also doesn't hurt to have a year of playing college basketball in a Power 5 conference under her belt.
"Experience is a really big thing," she said. "Last year we struggled during the season. Now we are sophomores and I'm pretty sure there are seven of us. So from freshman to sophomore year we have that experience of playing in the Big Ten Conference and playing at the college level."
Andrews, who scored 2,548 points in her Huntley career, also has been hard at work on her mechanics. "I've been working a lot on shooting," she said. "I've been working on my 3s and my off-the-dribble stuff and my post-up moves as well -- playing with my back to the basket."
Through midweek, Andrews is averaging 9.9 points to go with 4.4 rebounds. She's started all eight Illini games and is shooting .492 from the field, .481 from the 3-point line (13-for-27) and is a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
"My role is to take an open shot when one is open and create shots for other people who are hot and make sure I'm getting the ball to them," she said. "My job also is to be aggressive and rebound."
Andrews said she's having a blast playing for Fahey, who came to Champaign-Urbana after a 31-year run at Washington University in St. Louis where she led that program to an NCAA-record five Division III titles and 10 Final Four trips. Fahey is a Women's Basketball Hall of Fame member and won 737 games at Wash-U.
"I like the whole coaching staff," she said. "We had a change in staff and it's been a really good change. It's exciting to be able to play with your friends and play with coaches you like."
Andrews said she's majoring in journalism but is planning to transfer to advertising.
"It's time management," she said of balancing Division I college basketball with academics. "You have to time-manage everything. You use your study-hall hours. You get your homework done when you are not playing basketball."
Taormina at Minnesota State: Geneva product Justin Taormina is a redshirt tailback on the Minnesota State football team. Taormina and Minnesota State are in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals against No. 8 Texas A&M-Commerce Saturday at home in Mankato, Minn.
In the team's recent 63-21 playoff win against No. 5 Midwestern State, Taormina ran 19 times for 134 yards. In a 16-13 win against No. 20 CSU-Pueblo, he ran 8 times for 24 yards and in a 27-23 win against No. 13 Sioux Falls he ran 15 times for 50 yards.
In Minnesota State's 48-27 win against Wayne State, Taormina ran 30 times for 203 yards and scored 3 touchdowns.
On the season, Taormina has run 176 times for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has five games of 100 or more rushing yards this season.
Minnesota State brings a 13-0 record into the game. The team was ranked No. 2 in the country in one poll as of Nov. 14.
Barrett at Connecticut: Another Geneva graduate, Ally Barrett, is a freshman outside hitter on the University of Connecticut women's volleyball team.
This season, Barrett played in 30 matches and 107 sets and averaged 2.26 kills per set and finished third on the team in total kills with 242. She also had 150 total digs (1.40 per set) and 26 total blocks. Barrett registered 17 kills in a recent victory against Memphis. UConn finished the year 11-21 overall.
NCAA cross-country Midwest Regional: A pair of local runners competed in the recent NCAA Division I women's cross-country Midwest Regional. Rosary graduate Emily Martin, a junior at Creighton, finished eighth overall with a time of 20:22.8. Geneva graduate McKenzie Altmayer finished 34th with a time of 21:02.5. She is a sophomore at Bradley University.
Off at College wants your help: Send information and/or statistics on Fox Valley area athletes playing collegiately to Mike Miazga at firstname.lastname@example.org.