Huntley's Andrews leaves an unmatched legacy
Statistics are one good measure of a basketball player's overall success.
On that basis alone, Huntley senior forward and University of Illinois-bound Ali Andrews falls into the diamond elite category. Her 2,548 career points during an outstanding four-year varsity run are more than any other girls basketball player has scored since the Daily Herald opened its Fox Valley bureau in 1995. That 2,548 point total eclipses that of area greats Lindsay Schrader (Bartlett, Notre Dame, 2,423 career HS points), Taylor Whitley (Geneva, Indiana State, 2,131 career points), Hannah Frazier (Batavia, this-year's honorary co-captain, 2,089 career points), Maddie Versluys (Westminster Christian, senior this year, 2,075 career points), Becca Smith (South Elgin, Loyola, 2,038 career points) and Leslie Schock (Elgin High, Northwestern, 2,005 career points).
But the true test of a player's greatness is how teammates, coaches and opponents view that person.
And by that measure, Andrews further cements herself as one of the greatest in the area to ever put on a basketball uniform.
Adding to her legacy, Andrews now finds herself in an even rarer stratosphere after being named -- for the third year in a row -- an honorary co-captain of the 2015-16 Daily Herald All-Area team. Andrews becomes just the second Fox Valley area player to win the award three times, joining Schrader. She shares the award with Batavia senior Hannah Frazier.
"Ali Andrews is the best player I have seen in this conference and this area in my 23 seasons as a basketball coach, especially my 10 as a head coach," said Cary-Grove coach Rod Saffert. "She also is the toughest, most durable athlete I've had the good fortune of coaching against over the years. In my opinion, Ali's basketball acumen, physical prowess and skill is unmatched. This makes her the ultimate symbol of what is possible if the time is put into becoming a good player."
Saffert's comments were replayed like a broken record from other coaches whose teams have gone up against Andrews over the years.
"Anytime you have to devote a large amount of prep time to one player, she's obviously really good. Ali is even beyond that," said Jacobs coach Joe Benoit. "She is the most dominant and complete player I've seen in the nine years I've been around the Fox Valley Conference. She did a great job adding to her game each year and could beat you on both ends of the floor."
Dundee-Crown coach Sarah Miller adds: "Ali is physically and mentally tough and you can tell by her growth what kind of work ethic and commitment she has. She is a big leader to her team and it's no surprise why she has earned a scholarship to play at a high level next year."
Crystal Lake South coach Mark Mucha called Andrews the toughest matchup he's had to coach against. "Not only is she skilled around the basket, but she can make outside shots, bring the ball up in transition and defend just about anyone."
Randy Weibel's Rockton Hononegah squad saw Andrews up close in the DeKalb sectional championship this year (Huntley won 49-38 and Andrews led all scorers with 18 points). "I consider Ali one of the most dedicated, hardworking kids I have ever been around," the veteran coach said. "We spent a lot of our practice time preparing for her and now that we are done with her, we have figured out you can't stop her, but you somehow have to try to contain her."
McHenry coach Rob Niemic refers to Andrews as a first responder on the court. "If something doesn't go well on the court, she responds," he said. "If (Huntley) Coach (Steve) Raethz gets on her in a huddle, she responds. If some team runs a junk defense at her, she responds. That's toughness. She played hard all the time, but more importantly she produces all the time."
And it was more than just points that the 6-2 Andrews produced in her run at Huntley that saw her grab more than 1,000 rebounds (second in program history), make 129 3-pointers, shoot 50 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free-throw line.
Andrews, who advanced to the Class 4A state 3-point shooting finals in Normal this weekend, was part of four Huntley teams that won 111 games (another school record; for comparison's sake Elgin's Schock was part of teams that won 109 games, while Bartlett's Schrader was part of 96 victories), four regional titles, three conference titles, three sectional titles and made one appearance in the Class 4A state semifinals (her freshman year). Each year she was on the floor, Huntley established a new high-water mark for wins in a season (26, 27, 28 and 30 this season).
"Ali does what it takes to make the team successful and she makes those around her better," said Raethz. "That's the mark of a truly great player. I can't say enough good things about her. She improved every year here and added to her skill set. The fruition of all that hard work is the staggering statistics she produced. In my 17 years here she's the best player I've had the opportunity to coach.
"Besides her sister, Sam (now playing at Truman State), who I also had the pleasure of coaching, those two worked harder to improve their games than any other players I have coached. There is a reason why Ali is so talented and a lot of it is attributed to her tremendous work ethic."
Andrews, a McDonald's All-America candidate, remembers when she was a freshman on the varsity. That's when one of her greatest attributes came in handy and helped overcome what she terms an initial nerve-racking experience as a ninth-grader on the big-league team.
"I'm a very competitive person," she said. "I don't like to fail at things. I like to win. When I was a freshman I knew I had to stay focused and work hard to keep my position. It was nerve-racking, but that went away quickly. I was playing with my sister and had great teammates and coaches who pushed me as hard as they could. That helped me in the end."
Huntley senior guard Kayla Barreto, a fellow four-year varsity performer for Huntley, has known Andrews since the third grade. She's not surprised in the least bit what her friend has accomplished because of that never-ending thirst to improve her game.
"Ali is one of the hardest-working players I've ever had the chance to play with or have ever seen," Barreto said. "She has an unreal dedication to the game. She is where she is because she's always in the gym. Freshman year we both made varsity and every day she would stay after practice and work on her game. She does things on her own with speed and agility and with her shot. She takes no days off. She constantly works to make her game better."
Junior teammate Morgan Clausen appreciated a different side of Andrews on the court. "Ali is a really good teammate," she said. "She pushes all of us. She's always supportive and energetic. She cares about her teammates."
And now its on to Champaign for Andrews, where a whole different animal awaits in the rigors of Big Ten Conference women's basketball.
"Ali does all the little things well and plays the game with an aggressive style," University of Illinois women's coach Matt Bollant said when the Illini's 2016 recruiting class was announced. "Ali is an extremely driven person and her best basketball still is ahead of her."
Huntley junior Paige Renkosik has no doubt Andrews will excel at the college level. "Ali works really hard and will have an easy time adjusting to college," she said. "She's a very versatile player who just wants to play basketball."
One of Renkosik's fondest memories of Andrews is a game-winning shot she made in the semifinals of the DeKalb Martin Luther King tournament last year. "She took it all the way down the court with 3 seconds left and shot it before the buzzer and made it," Renkosik recalled. "She makes those shots all the time. She's one of the most humble and unselfish people I know, but when she needs to step up she does."
At the end of the day, Andrews will take the wins and the success of the Red Raiders' program over the mountains of statistical accolades she has achieved.
"The recognition is nice but it's not what I look at," said Andrews, who heaped major praise on Raethz and Huntley assistant coach Phil Leiterman for their tutelage the last four years. "I look at putting in the hard work to have that success and get to where we need to be as a team."
And with Andrews at the controls the last four years, the Red Raiders put together one heck of a memorable run.