Former Harper women's basketball players Siobhan Cerney and Anna Kirchoff developed a lasting friendship while playing together on the Harper College basketball team. The two both decided to go away to school for the 2011-12 school year following their time at Harper, but they both realized they missed basketball and being around each other.
After much discussion and a coach reaching out to them, they took an opportunity they couldn't pass up. Cerney and Kirchoff both accepted scholarships to play at Judson University and spent the last year where they belonged, side-by-side on the court playing the game they both love.
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Dating back to high school, the two players battled it out on the court, with Cerney playing for Schaumburg High School and Kirchoff playing for Barrington High School. The two both grew up playing against each other in AAU basketball as well.
Despite successful high school careers, neither player had a major scholarship offer at a four-year university, but Harper coach Mark Smith saw their abilities and thought they could both make a big impact. Smith saw Cerney as a very coachable player who could score and be a tenacious defender. He saw Kirchoff as a player with a multitude of offensive weapons who could beat you in many ways.
Cerney and Kirchoff quickly developed a bond once they got to Harper.
"I was able to go to school, work and play basketball all while at Harper," Cerney said. "It was the most fun I had playing basketball in my life."
"I definitely enjoyed playing basketball at Harper and building friendships," Kirchoff said. "Right when Siobhan and I got to Harper, we clung to each other and became best friends."
Coach Smith encouraged both players to work hard outside of just practice time, and it paid off on the court as Cerney and Kirchoff both played significant roles for the Hawks.
Cerney, a 5-foot-8 guard, played in all 28 games as a freshman for the Hawks, scoring 7.1 points per game (PPG) and grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game (RPG). During her sophomore season, she played in 27 games, scoring 7.3 PPG while grabbing 5.3 RPG.
Kirchoff, a 5-foot-9 forward, also played in all 28 games as a freshman for the Hawks, scoring 13.6 PPG (2nd on team) and grabbing 7.2 RPG (1st on team). In the 2010-11 season, Kirchoff improved her scoring average to 16.3 PPG (2nd on team) while hitting a team-high 73 3-pointers and shooting a team-best 71.4 percent from the free throw line. During that sophomore season, she earned first team All-Conference and All-Region honors.
In those two seasons, the Hawks had a combined 33-23 record. Academically, both girls received N4C Academic All-Conference awards for having a GPA at or above 3.0.
"I really liked the classes at Harper and class sizes," Kirchoff said. "I was able to develop good relationships with professors at Harper, and they really taught me how to develop good relationships with professors at my other schools."
Smith, who now coaches at Burlington Central High School, saw firsthand what it was like to be around Cerney and Kirchoff after coaching them for two years.
"As freshman, they stuck together and learned a lot," Smith said. "As sophomores, they provided great leadership and worked hard, but we had fun doing it and it was a really enjoyable experience."
While both Cerney and Kirchoff enjoyed their time at Harper together, it was time for both of them to move on to four-year universities. Cerney enrolled at Illinois State University and planned on majoring in English-Secondary Education, while Kirchoff chose to play basketball at Div. II University of Colorado Colorado Springs and major in Elementary Education. She would also have the chance to play at UCCS with her younger sister Abby, who was coming to the school as a freshman.
During the fall 2011 semester, the two best friends talked on the phone and used Skype to interact nearly daily. But something was missing.
Cerney missed the game of basketball and missed being with Anna. She was able to play pick-up games and intramural basketball at ISU, but it wasn't the same as playing with her best friend.
Kirchoff enjoyed having her sister with her at UCCS, but she only appeared in one game for her new team and her father fell ill. She decided to leave UCCS after one semester and re-enroll in classes at Harper.
"It was hard to leave the friends I made there, but I knew it was best for my family," she said.
While Kirchoff was back at Harper and Cerney continued working on her degree at Illinois State in the spring of 2012, Kristi Cirone was named the head coach of the Judson University women's basketball team at the end of the school year in May.
Cirone, who holds nine women's basketball records at Illinois State University, played professionally in Greece and Poland and also played in the WNBA, began her recruiting late due to the timing of the hire. She began reaching out to area high school coaches and was told by Kirchoff's coach that Anna had transferred and was looking for a place to play.
Cirone invited Kirchoff to an open gym, and she called her best friend to see if she wanted to come along. Both players went, and the next day they were offered scholarships to be reunited and play basketball together at Judson University.
Both players made significant impacts for the Eagles in the 2013-14 season. Cerney played in all 31 of the team's games, scoring 5.1 PPG in a team-high 26.5 minutes per game. She dished out 59 assists, which was also a team-high.
Kirchoff played in 29 games, scoring 10.9 PPG and making 33 3-pointers, both marks good for second on the team.
Cirone said both players did everything that was asked of them and worked hard to lead the program in the right direction and build a sense of family with their teammates.
"They both bring passion and hustle, and you need that to change the culture of a program," she said.
While the numbers in the box score tell a story, the bond the two have goes deeper than just being teammates.
"It's like having your best friend with you all of the time," Kirchoff said. "We want to push each other to be better and stay late (shooting) to get better. We are always supportive of each other."
Cerney has one year of eligibility left and Kirchoff is waiting to hear back from the NCAA regarding her eligibility, but she is optimistic she will be given another year to play at Judson. Kirchoff has family ties to the school, as her mom graduated from JU and her older sister Allison attends the school.
Looking back on their experiences, both players felt their time at Harper paved the way for big things.
"Harper provides a good transition to a four-year school and really makes it possible to compete at the next level," Cerney said.
"I loved the experience at Harper. It was very positive," Kirchoff said. "I was able to stay close to family, have a job and it helped ease me into college without having to go away."