Sweet Moment Award: Fremd's girls basketball title made school history
Fortunately for Fremd girls basketball fans, Vikings coach Dave Yates never had to reach into his back pocket after any game of the 2020 Class 4A state tournament.
Instead, his most experienced team in 14 years pocketed what no the Fremd girls basketball team ever had -- a state championship -- when it defeated Lincoln-Way West 58-47 on March 7.
Yates said the Vikings never ever talked about winning it all.
"Our two sectional games against Libertyville and Lake Forest, then the supersectional against Maine West were as tough a three games as anyone had to play in the state playoffs," Vikings coach Dave Yates said.
"I had a little paper in my back pocket. I called it my concession speech. There were things on it like 'we had a great season', 'I'm really proud of you', and on an on. I had that for all of those games because I felt any of those teams, especially Maine West, had a chance to beat us."
Instead, the Vikes handled them all and then went on to stop Lake Park 46-34 in the semifinals and Lincoln-Way West for the championship.
The championship run earned the Vikings the Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Sweet Moment Award of the 2019-2020 school year.
And how sweet it was as Yates said he and his girls never dreamed of claiming the state's top prize.
Making it even sweeter was the fact that Fremd's roster included 11 seniors and some veteran underclassmen.
"I was really happy for our seniors," said Yates, whose team won 16 of its last 17 games. "We had anywhere from four to six who were on the varsity as sophomores. They had been through the whole circle."
That circle included a heart-wrenching loss in the final minute to Grayslake Central in the Zion-Benton regional title game two years ago.
"That was heartbreaking because we were coming off three straight trips to the state finals," said Yates whose assistant coach James Han was the guard for Schaumburg's 2001 Class 4A state boys basketball championship team.
"That was humbling for those kids and I think it said a lot about their character. After that, I don't think I've ever seen a group work harder the next two years just to get better.
"They had a very good season as juniors, losing another tough game (to Lake Forest at the Libertyville sectional). So coming into this season I felt they had been through the emotional roller coaster of the state playoffs two years in a row."
Balanced scoring played a key role in the Vikings' success.
Three-time Mid-Suburban League Player of the Year Emily Klazcek, a senior who averaged 12.6 points, was followed by junior Grace LaBarge (9.5), senior Olivia Hill (8.5) and junior Ruthie Montella (8.0).
"That (balance) was huge," said Yates, whose team won 16 of its last 17 games. "I feel it's easier to stop one or two kids. We were pretty good at limiting the points of the other team's superstars (senior Liz Prigge was a key defender in that role).
"And we had lots of kids who could come off the bench and contribute points."
That group included seniors Ella Burns (44 3-pointers), Caroline Cochran, Katie Hansen, Kendall Maloney, Grace Cox, Ally Sheehan, Allie Prigge and Eleanor Klink. Rounding out the roster were juniors Kate Beckemeier and Hanna Mahmoud, sophomore Anna Schmitt and freshman Kace Urlacher and Maddie Fay.
"Literally, 80 percent of our players were returners who had been through the playoffs and the heartbreak," Yates said. "I think that's what really made that final playoff run special because they had all been on the other end of losing in a regional and losing in a sectional."
But this year came the sweetest moment.