A towering season for Fremd's Tworek
When she leaps to tap the jump ball Friday night, Grace Tworek will become their first player in Fremd girls basketball history to start three consecutive years in the IHSA state girls basketball finals.
If you look at a complete list of players to do that in Illinois, you surely would have an elite list.
And that word 'elite' is quite fitting for Tworek, who captains the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area team.
She has started in an unprecedented three straight Elite Eight games, plays in the off-season for Midwest Elite, and will be attending an elite college.
The Harvard-bound Tworek is one of the all-time greats to wear the Fremd basketball uniform.
"I have not seen another player like Grace during my time coaching Fremd," said Vikings coach Dave Yates. She is just a tremendous athlete, period."
That was evident from a young age when she tried many sports.
"I did everything, even ballet," Tworek said. "I loved all the sports, then each year one would kind of dwindle away up to high school."
When she tore her ACL in the summer heading into eighth grade, a promising soccer career came to an end.
"I never felt comfortable playing soccer after that," Tworek said. "And I always really liked basketball so that sealed the deal on playing solely basketball."
And has she ever played the sport.
She has competed in the toughest AAU league (NIKE EYBL) and started for Fremd against some of the best teams in the country.
Not to mention to three straight trips to Illinois State's Redbird Arena, where Friday she leads the Vikings against Geneva in a 7:15 p.m. Class 4A semifinal.
"It's pretty remarkable," she says of the three appearances in Normal. "I don't know if I ever thought that would happen. And what makes it so cool this year is that we've kind of been totally overlooked all season. Everyone saw us as a good team, but not good enough to do this."
That's because Tworek was the only returning starter from last year's team.
"The last two years, we were pretty much ranked No. 1 or 2 and expected to go down there," Tworek said. "This year, we just went out to give it our all and the underdogs came out on top."
Despite standing 6-foot-2, Tworek can stand anywhere on the floor and be a threat. She's tossed home 45 3-pointers this season in addition to her lightning fast spin moves to the hoop.
"She can score anywhere on the court which makes her a very difficult matchup," Yates said. "Grace will go down as one of the top players to come through Fremd. She is the best rebounder (343 this season) and shot blocker I have ever coached. She has a great feel for where balls are going to land off shots. She has blocked or altered so many shots for us in her career. She has covered up a lot of defensive liabilities with her ability to block shots."
Her ability in the classroom is equal.
The A honor roll student with a 4.3 GP in advanced classes plans to study in the business field, like most of her family.
"As good of an athlete Grace is, she is just as good a student," Yates said. "She takes an extremely challenging academic schedule loaded with AP courses. Harvard is getting a great basketball player and an equally talented student."
Harvard fit Tworek's school preference perfectly. Her longtime goal was to attend an Ivy League school.
"I wanted to use my basketball skills in the most efficient way possible" she said. "And getting a good education was the most important thing to me. An Ivy League school helped me combine both. It was the best of both worlds."
Tworek wouldn't mind entering the world of fashion when she graduates.
"Grace has always been more than just a basketball player," Yates said. "She has many passions beyond the court. She has a great sense of humor and is a really fun kid to be around."
It's a fun month for Tworek, who wears No. 21 because her birthday is March 21. She will enjoy spring break in a few weeks, and she has a brother who celebrates his birthday in the middle of the month.
Yates says Tworek is able to balance her fun personality with a mature outlook on her future.
"She knew where she wanted to go to school as a sophomore and knew that basketball was going to be a vehicle to help her achieve this," Yates said. "Many high school sophomores do not have that mature of an outlook on what basketball can do for you."
Tworek's basketball career at Fremd has resulted 114 wins, including four MSL West championships and 40 straight wins in the division (the Vikings have won 43 in a row dating back to the year before Tworek joined the team).
"Some of Grace's biggest moments have occurred in our biggest games," Yates said. "She is one of the most competitive athletes I have coached. Her work ethic in practice this year has been amazing. She has been a great leader to this team this year. She competes at such a high level, you have no other choice than to follow her lead."
And the opportunity to lead was something Tworek relished this winter.
"This is the one season I can be most proud of." she said. "I finally got to take the lead. I had to wait three years to get in this position. And then, not only just getting into the position, but along with doing the same things as the past two teams (getting down state). It's pretty cool to have been able achieve that."
She joins Ashley McConnell (Illinois), Haley Gorecki (Duke) and Bryana Hopkins (Northwestern) as Fremd players who have been all-area honorary captains this decade for Yates.
"I love Yates, he is an awesome coach," Tworek said. "We kind of have father-daughter relationship. We definitely have a special relationship. There is definitely no way we could have done this last three years without him.
"I'm really happy to have a coach who does as much for his players as he does, not only just in high school, but for AAU where he is a coach for a lot of us. He literally works year-round to help us. It's amazing how he goes totally out of his way to make things happen for you. It makes the process a lot easier. I'm pretty lucky to have him for high school and my AAU coach."
Yates obviously feels lucky to have had Tworek for four years.
"I have been very fortunate to be able to coach Grace," he said. "I am not sure many athletes have had a better four-year run than Grace.
"She will be very successful at whatever career she gets involved with after college. She has the drive, work ethic and charisma to make it big."