Fremd hoping it all adds up to a state championship

  • Fremd's Emily Klaczek works her way through Maine West's defense during Monday's Class 4A Conant supersectional. The Vikings take on Lake Park in Friday's state semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal.

      Fremd's Emily Klaczek works her way through Maine West's defense during Monday's Class 4A Conant supersectional. The Vikings take on Lake Park in Friday's state semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/5/2020 6:04 PM

Fremd's girls basketball team appeared in the first IHSA state finals in 1977 under hall of fame coach Carol Plodzien.

More than 40 years later, the Vikings haven't lost their touch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In fact, you might say Fremd coach Dave Yates has the Midas touch when it comes to these Final Fours.

When you add things up, the Fremd math teacher has his girls playing at Illinois State's Redbird Arena for the fourth time in six years, including a pair of Class 4A state runner-up trophies in 2015 and 2016.

After a dramatic fourth quarter at the Class 4A Conant supersectional, the Vikings survived a furious rally by defending state champ Maine West to reach Friday's 5:30 p.m. semifinal against Lake Park.

The 7:15 p.m. semifinal matches a pair of Southwest Suburban Conference champions in Lincoln-Way West and Bolingbrook.

LW-W (31-3) was ranked No. 4 in the final Class 4A regular season while Bolingbrook (27-5) checked in at No. 10.

Fremd was among the teams receiving votes and Lake Park was unranked.

When the Vikings (28-7) and Lancers (26-8) tip off, there will be likely be five future Division I players on the floor.

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Four belong to the Vikings with senior Emily Klaczek (Alabama-Birmingham), senior Olivia Hill (Bowling Green), junior Ruthie Montella (William & Mary) and junior Grace LaBarge (uncommitted but getting offers).

The Lancers feature DePaul recruit Darrione Rogers, who averages 25.9 points and has a team-high 338 rebounds.

"We played against her this summer," Yates said. "She is a tremendous scorer. Just like with Angela (Dugalic, Maine West All-American) on Monday night (supersectional), our intention is not to shut her down.

"But we can make things difficult for her. Because she can score so many ways, it will be a challenge."

Yates hopes the Vikings' challenging schedule (faced top teams from Kentucky, Tennessee and Crown Point along with a handful of ranked powers in Illinois) pays off.

"I didn't do this team any favor with our schedule," said Yates, who played under former Loyola University coach Jim Whitesell at Elmhurst College and Joe Tullo at St. Edward High School in Elgin.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I wanted to make sure we weren't just waltzing through the season, beating everyone by 15 points and getting false ideas of how good we were."

It is Yates' most experienced team (11 seniors) in his 14 seasons (326-115).

"I think we're probably going to have to slow them down a bit," said Lake Park coach Brian Rupp. "I know their point guard (Klaczek) has been a tough player for four years and she's so good along with their bigs who are tall and athletic. So we have to figure out how to get them to take shots they don't want to take."

Yates goes with a starting lineup of Klaczek, Montella, LaBarge, Hill and senior Caroline Cochran.

Seniors Ella Burns, Liz Prigge and Katie Hansen have played key roles in reserve.

The Vikes also played with adversity this winter.

"Ruthie was out for almost two months at the start of the season (knee) and then came back for two games before suffering an ankle injury," Yates said. "Emily missed almost the whole Montini tournament (at Christmas) with an ankle injury."

Klaczek and Hill, four-year varsity players, have bookended their careers with trips to the state finals.

"We've accomplished a lot but never once (during state tourney run) did we say our goal was to get to state," Yates said. "It was always just win the next game and let's get three more days to spend together as a team.

"These kids love being around each other. They've accepted their roles. It's been refreshing to coach a team like that because I know every team isn't like that."

In all, Fremd is making its sixth trip downstate.

Lake Park has never been in the state finals.

Rupp's first coaching job was an assistant to the late hall of famer Bill Probst (former St. Viator boys basketball coach) during Probst's one season (2006-07) as Richmond-Burton's girls basketball coach.

"I got to pick the legend of a brain," said Rupp, who is 111-96 in his seven seasons in Roselle.

The Lancers have won more games than the previous year in every season but one under Rupp.

"Every season we try to add new things," said Rupp, who played basketball and baseball at McHenry High School. "When we talk to our parents, we tell them the foundation is about people, success and basketball, in that order.

"Now that we're winning, and having this experience, it's something special."

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