Glenbard West opens playoffs by dominating Wheaton North
We all know where the Glenbard West would like their journey to end this season.
But how did it start? And we don't mean its 79-33 regional semifinal victory over Wheaton North on Wednesday.
Let's go back. Way back.
"The journey began, with this senior group, back in eighth grade," said Hilltoppers coach Jason Opoka. "We knew they were going to be good, and we knew if they dedicated themselves to continuing to improve, they would be in a good spot by the time they were seniors."
And how. The key stat you need to know from Wednesday is this: Glenbard West went 16-for-23 from 3-point land. That overcame a pesky, but ultimately overmatched, Falcons team that finished 8-23. Senior guard Eamon Kane led Wheaton North with 9 points.
Flip the script. Senior Caden Pierce paced the Hilltoppers with 23 points, including 6 three-pointers. Senior Paxton Warden added 17 points and 5 three-pointers.
Had enough? Senior Bobby Durkin added 12 points and a pair of 3-pointers.
You've got to have plenty of gas in the tank to stop that kind of firepower.
But while Opoka points to eighth grade, Warden, Pierce and senior forward Braden Huff -- all Division 1 collegiate recruits -- point out that they have been playing together since fifth grade.
That gives them a distinct advantage going forward, when they are sure to face every team's best game.
"That chemistry, playing together so long, definitely shows and definitely helps a lot," Pierce said. "That's one of our main strong suits as a team, being able to share the ball and know where each other is all the time."
Those were the days, Warden said.
"Instead of playing in league, we were able to play in tournaments against high competition," he recalled.
Of course, there were bumpy moments growing up. Huff recalled a time in eighth grade when, at 6-foot-2, he went against a player from Homewood-Flossmoor that was four inches taller than him. That didn't end well, as that player put up 30-plus, leaving Huff sheepish.
But those were the days when the edge of the knife was sharpened.
Even Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann couldn't help but be impressed with Glenbard West.
"You know what, they are an amazing team," Brackmann said. "Defensively, you have to pick your poison a little bit. We tried to focus on stopping them inside, but they are 100 percent shooting around the rim."
If you think Glenbard West is the only team that can shoot, guess again. Wheaton North canned 8 three-pointers of their own, led by Kane and senior guard Robbie Bonga.
But that couldn't overcome the Hilltoppers 48 points from distance and 24 in the paint.