CRYSTAL LAKE – Rob Baker discovered the benefit of being flexible when he was Prairie Ridge’s freshman girls basketball coach two years ago.
At that time, Baker’s best player, Sarah LeBeau, played goalkeeper with Eclipse Select, an elite club soccer team. That took time away from LeBeau’s basketball schedule. Rather than losing LeBeau completely, Baker and Prairie Ridge found ways to compromise that allowed LeBeau to play both sports.
The plan has worked so well that LeBeau and Baker, now the varsity head coach, are still implementing it. LeBeau plays through her club season, which finishes near the end of the year, meaning she misses some basketball practices and games. Then, from January on, she belongs full-time to the Wolves.
“I’m glad [Baker] is willing to work with me,” LeBeau said. “My teammates understand and they’ve been great supporting me. It’s going to be pretty much the same next year.”
Prairie Ridge (10-5) definitely gets a boost from LeBeau, a 5-foot-10 forward and a proficient 3-point shooter. The Wolves should be an even better team now that LeBeau,
who missed five games to this point, will be concentrating on basketball.
As a parent of two daughters who play travel sports and juggle busy schedules, Baker appreciates where LeBeau is coming from. Trae Manny, LeBeau’s goalkeeper coach from Eclipse Select, says she is one of the top keepers in the Chicago area. LeBeau lists Auburn, Wisconsin and Dartmouth among some of the top NCAA Division I schools in which she is interested.
“I completely understand the situation her and her parents are in,” Baker said. “Soccer is the biggest thing in her life. We’re willing to work around that to have her be part of the team. We had the same issues two years ago when I was the freshman coach. I like to see kids playing two or three sports. I like to see them participating. If she wasn’t an elite player, I’d still want to work something out so she could be here.”
While LeBeau’s talent and case are special, Baker adopted rules to which she adheres. She missed three basketball games while playing soccer in Florida over the Christmas break, which required extra practices when she returned early this week. She will sit for one quarter when the Wolves host Crystal Lake South on Friday, although that period would have been longer had she not made up some of her time missed.
“In practice, I feel like I have to put in more effort sometimes to make up for what I missed,” LeBeau said.
Her Wolves’ teammates, several of whom also play other sports, are glad to have LeBeau with them whenever possible.
“As a team, we understand her main thing is soccer,” guard Bri Fenton said. “We’re upset that we’re missing her, but we support her. When we have her here it’s really nice. We can always rely on her making shots. She can drive to the basket and she’s a really good shooter.”
Manny first noticed LeBeau two years ago when he was a coach at the University of Oklahoma and projected that she would be a potential Sooners recruit. Later, he took a job with Eclipse Select and got his chance to work with LeBeau.
“Working with her was a huge perk in coming here,” Manny said. “She has the athletic ability and frame and size that makes her easy to work with. She has a lot of ability to win the ball in the air. She gets confidence from that and I try to harness and apply those things.”
Manny likens LeBeau going for balls around the goal to rebounding, although there can be more bodies in soccer. LeBeau said her club takes a month-long break in January and her Eclipse coaches told her to finish her basketball season, then return for the spring club soccer season.
Knowing LeBeau will be available on a full-time basis will make a difference for the Wolves. LeBeau, averaging a team-high 8.5 points a game this season, was one of 32 players last year to qualify for the IHSA Class 4A 3-Point Shootout state finals.
“She’s a very good basketball player,” Baker said. “She led us with 20 points when we beat Hoffman Estates [in the Mundelein Holiday Tournament]. She’s a great athlete. When you watch her, you can see that. My team is full of multisport athletes. I love when kids play multiple sports.”