We're happy, and not just because of the new year.
A flip of the calendar also means the return of our basketball edition of Eyes on Five. Kevin Schmit had a blast bringing you the latest football news in the fall edition, and he's back this winter to add his thoughts on boys basketball.
And, like past seasons, Orrin Schwarz returns for his takes on DuPage County girls basketball.
Get comfortable. We'll be here a while.
1. Catching up:
Let's start the new year by congratulating a few local girls.
• Five players have reached the 1,000-point milestone this season: Jayla Johnson (WW South), Holly Lueken (Downers Grove South), Lindsey Jarosinski (Montini), Hannah Swider (Wheaton North) and Natalie Takahashi (Lisle). And that's just through this point. Others are expected to join them this year. Swider also became the Falcons' all-time scoring leader.
• It's a sign of how good the basketball is around here that so many DuPage County girls have committed to play in college. Six seniors are committed to Division I schools for basketball:
Lindsey Jarosinski (Montini) Wake Forest
Mia Lakstigala (Naperville Central) Penn
Tsimba Malonga (Benet) Denver
Aaliyah Patty (Montini) Ohio State
Illysse Pitts (Montini) Valparaiso
Antwainette Walker (St. Francis) Arkansas-Little Rock
Plus three Division II commits:
Ally Daca (Glenbard South) Lindenwood
Caylin Rufus (York) Upper Iowa
Carson Vance (Lake Park) Illinois-Springfield
We'll add a couple of notable seniors opting for Division III ball:
Hannah Swider (Wheaton North) Wheaton College
Natalie Takahashi (Lisle) Monmouth College
Two juniors have committed to Division I schools also:
Maggie Bair (Glenbard South) Drake
Frankie Kokkines (Montini) Southern Illinois
Congratulations to all.
2. The merry-go-round:
We haven't been keeping this stat over the years, but this season does seem notable for the number of new coaches. Ten of the 29 DuPage County girls teams have made changes at the top.
Some of these new coaches are seeing improved results already. For instance, Fenton and Waubonsie Valley already have several more wins this season under Dave Mello and Brett Love, respectively, than they did all last year. Mello, the Fenton softball coach and assistant volleyball coach, left Bartlett's program to take over Fenton's girls basketball team also. Love coached Hinsdale South a couple of seasons ago.
Kristi Faulkner and Brandon Collings have Glenbard West and York, respectively, in the thick of the West Suburban Silver race. Faulkner, a former Hilltoppers star, has the Hilltoppers, ranked 11th in the Daily Herald Top 20, continuing the improvement that they saw the last three seasons under Karen Persinger. Persinger now is coaching Hinsdale Central, where she teaches.
Steve Wit has stepped in at Glenbard North for John Chamberlain, and Dan Vashinko is guiding West Chicago, which for the first time in a couple of decades is not being coached by Kim Wallner.
Erin Carwell moved up at Wheaton Academy after being a Warriors assistant coach a season ago. Rich Panitch is in his first season at Westmont.
Then there is St. Francis, where Melissa Taylor coached her final game Friday before departing for a career change. Assistant Sandy DeCraene will guide the Spartans the rest of the season along with Greg Webb.
3. Passing the torch:
Speaking of the 1,000-point club, that praiseworthy milestone was passed last month by Willowbrook boys basketball player Ethan Schuemer.
Schuemer, committed to St. Cloud State University, vaulted by 1K in grand fashion on Dec. 15 by scoring 20 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking 10 shots in a key West Suburban Gold win over Hinsdale South.
The 6-foot-6 senior forward became the first player in program history to reach 1,000 points. In the season finale last year Schuemer became the Warriors' all-time leading scorer by finishing the campaign with 906 points.
The Willowbrook legend he passed? Current varsity coach Chris Perkins, who ended his four-year varsity run in 2004 with 902 points.
"If people are going to break your record, let it be someone that you're actually coaching," Perkins said. "At least I was front row for every basket. I got to see it all."
For all the improvement made by several DuPage County boys hoops teams this season, Naperville Central gets the award for top turnaround so far.
The Redhawks couldn't find any rhythm a year ago while finishing 10-17 and in the bottom half of the DuPage Valley Conference. Offensively, Naperville Central simply didn't have enough playmakers.
That's changed this season. Naperville Central (11-2, 4-1) surpassed last year's win total last Friday by knocking off defending DVC champion Wheaton Warrenville South.
The effort was inspiring considering 6-foot-8 senior Ben Wolf, committed to Northern Michigan University, didn't get many touches on offense and scored 3 points -- all from the line in the fourth quarter. The Redhawks still prevailed with an aggressive attack from the other players on the court.
Nick Baskin, Tyler O'Brien, Dillon Kane and Daniel Raab each scored double digits while accounting for 46 of the team's 55 points. Four players combined for 10-of-11 free-throw shooting down the stretch.
It's by no means a flashy group, but it's an effective one.
And with that win, the Redhawks are in position to grab a share of first place in the DVC with a Friday cross-town win at Naperville North (13-1, 5-0).
Should be a rowdy night on the north side.
5. The stat:
Congrats to Benet boys basketball coach Gene Heidkamp on notching his 250th victory in last Friday's 52-49 East Suburban Catholic Conference win over St. Patrick.
It's a notable accomplishment because of the consistency in the success in recent years. At 10-4, Benet is halfway to reaching 20 wins for the ninth straight season.
Heidkamp's Benet teams have claimed five regional titles, three sectional titles and twice finished second in the state in Class 4A. The Redwings fell in those title games by a combined 8 points.
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