Maine West's Van Fleet finds motivation right at home

Updated 1/17/2019 8:17 PM
  • Maine West's Dylan Van Fleet (23) goes up for a rebound at the Dundee-Crown Christmas tournament.

      Maine West's Dylan Van Fleet (23) goes up for a rebound at the Dundee-Crown Christmas tournament. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Like mother, like daughter.

Being part of a team that has 63 wins in 66 games and is ranked No. 1 in the state, Maine West junior guard Dylan Van Fleet is experiencing quite a run in her girls basketball career.

But she has to look no further than her own home for someone who's actually been part of an even more impressive streak.

Dylan's mother Lisa (Nicholson) was a member of the Warriors' 1988-89 team that had a state-record 65-game winning streak ended before a huge crowd at the Niles West sectional.

"Even though they were a little grainy, my mom has shown me some of the clips from that team," Dylan said.

It's clear that this year's team has the same motivation as the West powerhouses that were winning all those games under hall of fame coach Derril Kipp, whose 87-88 team went 35-0 while winning the Class AA title.

"Those clips had a major motivational purpose as I got older," said Dylan, who will be playing in Coach Kipp's Hoopsfest this Saturday at Willowbrook High School. "They aspired me to be on a team that works that hard and is that good."

Dylan sure found those kind of teams at Maine West.

Last year, the Warriors were third in the Class 4A tourney and they've followed it up with a 21-0 record this winter, defeating teams by an average of 29.7 points per game.

"This year's team, like ours was, is very committed and works very hard," said Lisa, who was also a member of the cross country and track and field teams at Maine West. "They all put in the work every day, and that is something I remember from our team. We wanted to practice and improve, especially as the teams we played against got tougher."

That passion came from Kipp, who had a chance to watch the players from this year's club before they reached high school.

"I remember when coach Kipp would share how excited he was for the future," Lisa said. "Most of the girls on the team right now played in the Lady Warriors feeder program and coach Kipp would stay after to work with any girls who wanted to stay. He would tell me how excited he was for the future.

"He said with all these girls Maine West was going to be as good as we were in the late 80s and early 90s. He knew it back then when the girls were in seventh and eighth grade."

Lisa was Dylan's coach from fourth through eighth grade.

"I have probably given more advice to Dylan over the years than she wants to remember," Lisa said with a laugh. "I did tell her back when coach Kipp was coming to work with the girls that she should listen to everything he had to say. And try your best to do everything he tells you."

Dylan obviously listened well, as she is one of the top guards in the Northwest suburbs, despite also excelling on the soccer field.

Dylan, who averages 11 points with a career high of 25 points against Barrington, credits her mother for a lot of her success.

"She's been a big influence on how I play and why I should play," Dylan said. "Because of her I also know how funny the game of basketball can be and can change at any moment -- like Moira Kennelly's game-winning basket from behind the basket on the baseline in the Marshall game (semifinal in the 1988 championship run)."

Now Van Fleet would love to duplicate that state title.

"It's amazing to be sharing experiences like that with my mother, "she said. "And then to be able to play on a team that works so hard and fights to be the best we can be like her teams.

"After last year, it was nice to be able to compare both of our experiences downstate. Of course there were some differences but it was pretty similar overall. It also is a huge motivator to hopefully live up to the same expectations as her team and go as hard and far as we can."

Now it's coach Kim de Marigny trying to get the Warriors downstate in back-to-back years.

"They listen to 'Coach D', they are lucky to also have a special coach who pushes them to push themselves. Those are all things those teams in the late 80s had," said Lisa, whose husband Jeff, also a West graduate, played Division I soccer. "They understand it takes every girl on the team to be successful. They are also very unselfish, on any given night anyone can be the high scorer -- they share the ball so well. They are very disciplined like our teams were."

Lisa is thrilled to be able to watch her daughter in a similar high school experience.

"There are no words for how exciting it is," said Lisa, whose 57 percent field goal percentage for the 88-89 season ranks among the best at West. "I love watching her and her teammates play together and to see them having such success is unbelievable and I am so excited for her and her team that they get to have an experience like this.

"Watching them meet each challenge, there is nothing like it. It is something that they will always remember, and I get to see all the hard work all the girls have put in over the years pay off."

Unfortunate loss: Wheeling's Morgan Collar suffered a torn ACL, partial MCL tear and tore her cartilage against Elk Grove a week ago and expects to be out of action for nine months.

"I have to do two weeks of rehab just so my leg is strong," she said. "And then I will have surgery at some point."

Collar was a key cog in the Wildcats' offense. The 6-foot junior forward averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds per game.

"It's hard not be able to play with my teammates, especially the seniors," she said. "I want to play in college so one of the bad things about this happening my junior year is that a lot of the colleges look at juniors now.

"And it's going to be hard, because my spring basketball season is starting up after this, too, and I won't be there for that. The plan is to come back strong for my senior year."

Collar plans to study nursing in college.

What stood out for Wildcats' assistant coach Bill Murmann was Collar's attitude.

"This is a girl who the first thing she says after tearing a ACL, MCL and cartilage is 'I'm sorry I let my team down,' " he said. "That's a winning attitude."

Standings update: At the halfway point of Mid-Suburban League conference play, Prospect leads the Mid-Suburban League East with a 4-2 record followed by Rolling Meadows (3-2) and Hersey (3-2). The two teams meet at Meadows on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Buffalo Grove (3-3) is fourth followed by Elk Grove (2-3) and Wheeling (1-4).

In the MSL West, Fremd leads the way at 5-0, followed by Barrington (3-2), Conant (3-2), Schaumburg (3-2), Hoffman Estates (1-4) and Palatine (0-5).

Maine West leads the Central Suburban North at 6-0 while St. Viator is in sixth place in the East Suburban Catholic with a 2-2 record.

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