It's no real secret that the Hampshire girls basketball team hasn't really been tested by its schedule thus far.
But, the games have to be played and the Whip-Purs are 14-0, proving on most nights to be next to invincible. In fact, since beating DeKalb 31-29 to win the DeKalb Thanksgiving tournament, the closest any team has come to the Whips was on Dec. 12 when they beat Stillman Valley 62-36.
As a couple of seemingly tougher challenges await this week - Thursday at home against 15-2 Rockford Lutheran and then Saturday for the Whips' Pack the Place night against rival Burlington Central and first-year coach Stephanie Smith, a former Hampshire standout - we took some time Monday before practice to ask a few Hampshire players and their coach two simple questions: 1) Are you having fun with this team and why; and 2) What have been the keys to this 14-0 start.
And one of the unique and special things about this team is that 8 of the 9 players on the varsity roster have at least one parent who graduated from Hampshire. The other, Jessica Van Dorin, moved to Hampshire from a small town in Iowa, when she was 3 years old. Even the coaches have longtime Hampshire ties. Head coach Sue Ellett, a Dundee-Crown grad, is married to a Hampshire graduate and her assistants, Joe Watzlawick and Brian Gilbert, are both Hampshire alums.
Here's how the Whip-Purs responded to our questions.
Heine, a senior signed with St. Xavier University, averages a team-high 13.6 points per game as well as 6.3 rebounds. She's a four-year varsity player and a two-time all-area player.
"I'm having a ball," she said of the season so far. "It's a 10 out of 10. We work hard and we do everything together as a team and not as individuals. Over Christmas break we all went and played laser tag together. That was a lot of fun. Even though it wasn't basketball, it was a chance for us all to have some fun and get to know each other even better."
As for the on-the-court success, Heine says it's all about teamwork.
"We don't have to rely on one person so there's no real pressure on anyone," she said. "If something we're doing doesn't work we just go to the next thing. Each person does something well and that turns it into a team thing. If someone's having a bad game everyone else picks her up. We try to feed off the positive. We go 100 percent all the time and we worry about ourselves and not the other team."
Another four-year varsity player, Dumoulin is one of the toughest defenders in the area. She also averages 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game for a team that outscores its opponent, on average, 58-27.
"This is a group of girls that we just come out and play hard," she said. "We work hard at practice and there's no pressure. Everybody chips in together and it's a real team. We play basketball and we have fun doing it. We're all really good friends. We have our laughs and we have a good time."
Being that Dumoulin is the top defender on the team, it's no surprise how she responded to question No. 2.
"First and foremost is defense," she said. "When we can hold teams under 30 points (which they've done in 11 of 14 games) we know our defense is pretty sound. If you hold teams under 30, you know you can win. Offensively, we share the ball. If you shut down one of us there are four other people that can step up and score."
A junior, Cassie's sister Alex is proving to be one of the top rebounders and toughest inside threats in the area. She averages 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
"I'm having a lot of fun," Alex said. "It's a good bunch of girls who love to play and who are dedicated to being better."
Alex also points to defense as being one of the keys to the Whip-Purs' success, but she also says the team's game is a complete one.
"We play good defense, we have good rebounding and everyone pitches in to help us win," she said. "We have good shooting, we're quick and we just play good basketball."
Jessica Van Dorin
When the season started, Ellett knew she'd get solid scoring from Heine and the Dumoulin sisters. What she might not have expected was the production she'd get from Van Dorin, a 5-foot-2 junior who has lit up the nets for 50 3-pointers on 50 of 98 shooting from beyond the arc. She has suddenly become the third leading scorer on the team at 11 points per game.
"These girls make everything fun because we're all so close," Van Dorin said. "I didn't expect to be scoring this much but all the credit goes to my team. They get me open so much. I'm having a lot of fun."
Van Dorin agrees Hampshire's strong suit is defense.
"Our defense stops most offenses and we're a lot quicker than most teams," she said.
Coach Sue Ellett
Ellett has had the luxury of coaching two Hampshire teams downstate, one as Milt Awe's assistant and one as a head coach. She also played downstate for Dundee-Crown and coach Joe Komaromy in 1983. But talking to Ellett about this team and its potential come postseason time clearly brings a smile to her face.
"On a scale of 1 to 10 this has been a 12," she said. "The numbers are a little down but the quality one through nine is extremely high. There are no hidden agendas with any of these kids. It's like a fun job for the kids. They punch their time card an go to work. It's a nice mix of height and speed and I'm having a real good time coaching them."
Ellett knew coming into the season that she had the luxury of her top three scorers back.
"That's guaranteed points," she said. "Between Chrissy, Cassie and Alex I figure start every game ahead 45-0. "Having that four years of experience with Chrissy is like having an extension of me on the floor. That makes the communication with the team go smoother.
"We've been able to tweak things and tweak them early because of the growth of the sophomores and juniors since Thanksgiving."
Ellett acknowledges the schedule hasn't been the strongest but says that has allowed her team to come together even more.
"The nice thing about the schedule is that it's allowed the younger kids to go in without being spooked," she said. "And when you're coaching hometown kids like we have, that really makes it special."
And if Hampshire keeps playing as it has been, that word special will be in use a lot more around the home of the Whip-Purs in the weeks ahead.