DuPage County girls basketball notes: Freshman Jones leads Naperville C. on 10-game win streak

Naperville Central girls basketball coach Andy Nussbaum can't believe his good fortune.

The veteran coach is currently riding a high in his illustrious career, capturing his 700th win on Jan. 7 at Plainfield Central.

Indeed, it was a milestone moment for Nussbaum.

But Nussbaum wanted to focus his attention on another streak. His team has won 10 straight games after opening the season with a 6-9 mark. The Redhawks (16-9, 3-3 DuPage Valley) are one of the hottest teams in Chicagoland. Naperville Central's winning streak includes 2-point wins over Lake Park and Waubonsie Valley. The Redhawks have four days off from games before hosting Neuqua Valley on Thursday.

"It's one of these deals, where we've won 10 in a row, so let's play a game tomorrow," Nussbaum said. "When things are going are right for you, you want to keep on playing. We have an uncharacteristic four-day break. We like the way we're playing right now. I can't tell you the last time we've won 10 in a row. I'll have to look it up. It's been a long time."

The 10-game winning streak has led to another problem for Nussbaum.

"When I was younger, I had problems sleeping after losses," Nussbaum said. "Now that I'm older, I can't sleep after wins. I guess I rather have it this way than the old way."

Either way, Nussbaum is back to his "old way" of winning games.

"I think we've started to play together as team," he said. "We have seven or eight players who are getting a lot of playing time. I'm sure that six or seven of them will be college athletes. Not all of them are going to play basketball, but we will take athletes. We're trying to play to everybody's strength."

The Redhawks' biggest strength is freshman forward Trinity Jones, who's averaging nearly 19 points per game. The 6-foot-1 Jones, who picked up an offer from Arizona State last week, torched Waubonsie Valley for 29 points and 22 rebounds on Jan. 19. She capped her stellar game by driving coast-to-coast for the game-winning basket.

"Trinity Jones is the cornerstone of our success," Nussbaum said. "We play in a tough conference and tournaments. We play a lot of good teams. I'm not surprised at her success. She has great size, is very athletic and one of our best shooters. She's still learning and improving. She can get better. Trinity is so athletic for a girl her size and can shoot.

"When you have a situation where a freshman is your best player, that can make your seniors uncomfortable, but I give a lot of credit to our seniors."

Nussbaum has coached several talented players in his career, most notably one of the best players in basketball history in Candace Parker. Although Nussbaum stayed away from comparing Jones to Parker, he did provide a hint.

"She reminds me of someone I used to coach a long time ago," Nussbaum said, laughing.

Besides Jones, the Redhawks have a talented rotation that includes Megan Norkett, Natalie Jordan, Erin Hackett, Callie Tumilty, Ella Burke, Kendall Lenz and Adrianna Villanova.

West Chicago update:

West Chicago is close to reaching a major accomplishment for the program. The Wildcats (16-9) need four more wins to reach the 20-victory mark.

West Chicago coach Mark Fitzgerald said his players are motivated to etch a permeant mark of their 20-win season - on him.

"The basketball season is a long one, so if it's not fun, the season will drag on," Fitzgerald said. "At WEGO, we currently have our '20-Win Tattoo Challenge' going on. We made a bet that if the team got 20 wins, I would get a tattoo commemorating the accomplishment."

Just for the record, Fitzgerald said he doesn't currently have any tattoos.

"Being just four wins away from that lofty goal, which is the best overall win total since 2012, I need to get ready to put my money where my mouth is," Fitzgerald said. "To say the least, this has been a major motivator for my kids to make Coach Fitz get a tattoo."

Fitzgerald said his players have another goal of playing winning basketball in the playoffs.

"Going into the playoffs, I feel our record will bring in a higher seeding than recent years," Fitzgerald said. "We hope this will fuel some success in the postseason, which is something our program has lacked recently. Led by our outstanding point guard, Jasmyn Trigueros, this team has turned the corner and can now be counted on as a up-and-coming team. Our whole team will be back next year. My hope is that it's going to get real exciting around West Chicago over the next several years."

Trigueros leads the team in several categories, averaging team high in scoring (20.5 points), rebounding (5.0), assists (2.0), steals (3.6), free throws made (111), blocks (8), deflections (70) and 3-pointers made (62).

Fitzgerald said junior Sydney Bennema has helped elevate the team since she was inserted into the starting lineup.

St. Francis update:

St. Francis sophomore guards Riley Austin and Tea Rubino have become go-to players this season. Austin is averaging a team-high 10.7 points to go with 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game, while recording 73 deflections and blocking 13 shots.

Rubino is averaging 9.1 points and shooting 75.8% from the free-throw line. Junior guard Dolly Smith is providing valuable minutes, averaging 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds.

"We lost three senior starters from last season and five seniors (total) who provided good leadership," St. Francis coach Jeff Gerdeman said. "We do have our two, what I call my two 'super sophs' in Riley Austin and Tea Rubino. They worked hard this summer and it shows, but they're still learning the varsity game. We've got to find more shots for Dolly Smith. That's on me."

Gerdeman said the Spartans (14-10) have shown some growth in recent weeks against a tough schedule, pointing out the progress of Natalie Doyle. The junior has become a key rotational player after recovering from an ACL injury early last season, scoring 17 points against Aurora Central Catholic and 16 points against Timothy Christian in back-to-back games last week.

"We're young," he said. "We're trying to keep building for the playoffs. Tea has worked on her quickness during the offseason, has a nice step-back and taking the ball to the hole more. Riley is our top scorer. She's got a nice shot and started to use her length and can drive. I'm looking forward to having two and a half more years with those two players."

Montini update:

Montini coach Shannan Spanos wanted to test her team before the start of the playoffs. The Broncos hosted Class 4A powerhouse Fremd on Monday night. In the first half, the Broncos struggled against the highly talented Vikings, but regrouped with a solid second half before falling victim to fatigue.

"We've got a very special team and are coming together and peaking at the right time," Spanos said. "We've beaten some top teams in the area. We're looking forward to our end of the year tournament and that will lead us into the playoffs. We're playing some of our best basketball right now, which is great."

Spanos said the Broncos (18-5) are getting contributions from several players toward the end of the season.

"Shannon Blacher is our everything player," Spanos said. "We're putting in a lot of things right now that revolve around her and her athleticism. She is our leader and very vocal. Victoria Matulevicius is doing very well offensively and putting together some big games. Alyssa Epps is doing a great job rebounding and doing all the dirty work. Eleanor Helm is hitting big shots and Peyton Farrell and Shea Carver and the kids off the bench are all contributing."

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