During the past five season, the girls basketball teams at Johnsburg, Jacobs and Dundee-Crown have all had moments of dominance.
Today, they are struggling to win. Each program faces a unique challenge to rejoin the Fox Valley Conference elite. For second-year Johnsburg coach Brad Frey, replacing the Skyhawks’ winningest basketball coach in school history, boys or girls, has not been easy.
Frey, who spent 11 seasons alongside former girls head coach Mike Toussaint, was hired to lead the varsity girls basketball team after Toussaint became the boys’ coach.
“Personally, I never really felt like, ‘Oh jeez, you’ve got to live up to Toussaint’s legacy,’ ” Frey said. “I’ve never felt that, I really haven’t. To be honest, maintaining my personal standards has been tough.”
The Skyhawks have struggled to put together complete games en route to a 3-20 record (2-8 in the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division), but finally Frey is seeing the effort and results the past two weeks that he had been searching for. The highlight of Johnsburg’s turnaround: avenging a 20-point December loss to Hampshire with Saturday’s 52-47 road win.
“I’m going to try and get better at what I’m doing, but at the same time I need girls to get better at what they’re doing,” Frey said. “ … I’m hoping that I can give them a little encouragement and preview of the future. If every girl gets just a little bit better individually, we’d be remarkably better as a team.”
Jacobs, like Johnsburg, is still a work in progress. Jacobs coach Joe Benoit is pleased with how his team has progressed, though that may be hard to recognize based on Jacobs’ 2-19 record (2-7 in the FVC Valley). The Golden Eagles are basing their success on more than just their record.
“The kids have really bought into what we’re trying to teach,” Benoit said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked. They’re working extremely hard.”
Benoit, in his first season as Jacobs’ coach, is the Golden Eagles’ second head coach in three years and third in four years. Benoit is determined to rebuild at every level, from the freshman to varsity teams. The instability has especially been tough on the five seniors, who for the third time in their high school careers endured a change in direction.
“We owe a lot to our seniors,” Benoit said. “They’ve really stepped up this year as leaders within our program. From the top down, they’ve done an excellent job with our sophomore and freshman teams when we do group program activities.”
Overhauling a program can be overwhelming, Benoit said. The work starts at the lowest levels, building the Golden Eagles’ fifth- to eighth-grade feeder programs in hopes of building long-term success. Benoit, who spent three years on former Jacobs coach and current Hampshire coach Ed Haugens’ staff as the sophomore coach, appreciates the programs’ history of success which most recently included sharing the FVC Valley title in 2009-10.
“We’re trying to build a family; I’m not going to quit on them,” Benoit said. “I want to see this through. … It is a great challenge, but I’m excited.”
One year removed from a second-place finish in the FVC Valley, Dundee-Crown is rebuilding too. D-C’s struggles this year aren’t too surprising, though. With its core gone, lost to graduation, Chargers coach Michelle Russell is doing something similar to three years ago, when D-C failed to win a conference game.
“It’s very difficult on the juniors that I had last year that are seniors this year,” Russell said. “They give their 100 percent effort, but I know going from a season like that to this year is frustrating and hard for them. They’re trying as hard as they possibly can, trying to teach that effort.”
Despite a 2-19 record and 0-9 mark in the division, a focus on fundamentals and building a solid foundation has been important for Russell and the Chargers, especially with a roster that features two sophomores and two freshmen. The Chargers have drawn encouragement from their close losses, including six against FVC opponents that they lost by single digits.
“Our record is similar to [three seasons ago], but we have a more solid core from the freshmen all the way up to the senior class right now,” Russell said. “ … We’re right there in a lot of the games, we just haven’t been able to quite get over that hump yet.
“The girls are starting to get it a little more. That’s the difference between that first year [three seasons ago] is that we’re in every game.”