For 14 years, before he was even coaching, Johnsburg girls basketball coach Brad Frey has kept a go-to play in the back of his mind, always waiting for the ideal moment to use it.
Inspired from seeing it used in a Mendota game his cousin Billy Corrigan played in, Frey took note of the play called “money,” which had resulted in a dunk off an inbounds play. Now part of the Skyhawks’ playbook, Frey used the money play for only the fifth time this season in a pivot moment of Wednesday’s game against Grant.
With the Skyhawks trailing the Bulldogs by one point in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, senior Maycee Ward, inbounding the ball just beyond half court, found teammate Trace Chase streaking to the basket after getting open on a spin move. Ward passed the ball across the court while hitting Chase in stride, and the junior forward converted the game-winning layup as time expired.
“Ward made one of the greatest passes I’ve ever seen in my life, and Trace caught it and took a dribble to get around two defenders to make it,” Frey said. “They ran it well. If it doesn’t go in, I’m still happy we played a good game. But it went in and that changed their whole outlook on some things.”
The buzzer-beating, game-winning play against Grant represents a microcosm of the Skyhawks’ season. Although Frey admits his team might not be more talented than an opponent, the Skyhawks have proven on any given day they’re capable of beating – and at the very least being competitive against – better teams. That wasn’t the case a season ago.
“I think Grant was a better basketball team than we were, and we just fought and didn’t quit and played hard,” Frey said. “… No one’s killing us, so I think they have a new-found confidence coming into a game. When they come out and play hard, that’s the key, then we have a chance to win. That’s been the difference.”
Owning a 10-16 record with two regular-season games remaining, Johnsburg already has more than doubled last season’s win total (four). Johnsburg’s six seniors have played an important role in setting up the Skyhawks for success – not only this season but in shaping the program’s expectations going forward and trying to return it back to an elite level. Frey, in his third year as Johnsburg’s coach, said the seniors deserve a ton of credit.
“I think we work a lot harder at practices this year, and we take it a lot more seriously,” senior guard Maddie Himpelmann said. “With the team being so close, it’s easier to connect and helps us.”
The camaraderie among the six seniors has grown since they began playing together in second and third grade for the Lil Dribblers. This group, led by the seniors, is determined to elevate the program back among the area’s best and continue a tradition of successful teams year in and year out.
“Our mindset for this year is we don’t want to go out like the seniors did last year,” senior guard Kayla Toussaint said. “A lot of us seniors realized how the last seniors felt when their season was over, and we knew that we weren’t going to end like that. The motivation came from past experience.”