Fremd ends emotional season by beating Waubonsie in 4A third-place game

Right before the start of the fourth quarter Friday night, Fremd junior shooting guard Ella Todd stood near halfcourt waiting for the ball to be inbounded.

As she moved close to the scoring table, three Waubonsie Valley players encircled her in an attempt to stop her from getting the ball.

The plan didn’t work.

When Todd, a Utah recruit, didn’t have the ball, her teammates picked up the slack in the final eight minutes.

Junior guard Coco Urlacher, in particular, enjoyed the extra space, bouncing back from a tough earlier performance to spark the Vikings.

Urlacher turned in a game to remember, compiling a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds along with four steals and two assists to power the Vikings to a 62-52 victory over Waubonsie Valley in the Class 4A state third-place game at CEFCU Arena.

“I know we’re a taller team but we had to work hard, so I knew I just had to work hard and rebound,” Urlacher said. “I didn’t so well in my last game today, so I just tried to rebound and play defense to help the team and seniors win.”

Senior forward Brynn Eshoo, a Portland University recruit, padded her season totals with 15 points and five rebounds. Todd was the third double-digit scorer, ending with 14 points, three assists and two blocks to go with two 3-pointers.

The Vikings handed veteran coach Dave Yates a memorable keepsake to end a long and difficult personal season.

“I’m very pleased that these girls earned their trip downstate, and finished on a high note,” Yates said.

Yates prefers to let his players bask in the limelight. The veteran coach has built one of the top programs in the state, relying on a wealth of talented players, namely former Duke star and 2015 Ms. Basketball of Illinois Haley Gorecki, and a solid coaching staff to lead the Vikings to five state appearances since 2015. The Vikings, who captured the program’s lone state championship in 2020, have endured an emotional season with their leader dealing with extreme health conditions that nearly sidelined him for the season.

But Yates, a tough-as-nails player at St. Edward and Elmhurst College, learned in late April that he had a form of brain cancer. He started experiencing flu-like symptoms, prompting him to visit a doctor. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a brain tumor that required immediate emergency surgery. Yates had to endure a second follow-up surgery, leading to him undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, which caused him to lose his lush hair. The Palatine community, basketball program, former players, students and even the Chicagoland coaches rallied around the beloved Yates. Yates always had a knack for building team chemistry and also helping his players reach their potential.

His team rallied around him on Friday night.

Yates said he appreciated the effort his players, especially after playing their semifinal game just a few hours earlier.

“It was a real grind to losing a (semifinal) game like that and turning around and having to play,” Yates said. “Give our kids credit, they fought through that. It was hard. They wanted to win this (final) game.”

Throughout the scary ordeal, Yates kept his mind focused on not missing his 18th season on the sidelines for the Vikings. His determination rubbed off on his players, helping them overcame a tough regular season schedule and sectional to land one of the four coveted state semifinal spots.

Urlacher said the entire program understood the importance of winning the third-place game.

“Before the game in the locker room, we talked that we need to win this for Yates,” Urlacher said. “It the last game for the seniors, so we wanted to play as hard as we can to win it for them and Yates. It meant a lot. We had to win it for Yates. We did our best to get third.”

The Warriors struggled in the first half following a 69-44 loss to Nazareth earlier Friday afternoon, falling into a 34-26 hole at halftime. The Viking (30-7) shot 14-of-28 in the first half compared to 10-of-31 for the Warriors, including a frigid 3-of-16 from beyond the arc.

The Warriors (32-5) nearly doubled their loss total in a matter of six-plus hours on Friday but they return the majority of their roster next season. The graduation of Hannah Laub will be a tremendous blow, but four starters are slated to be back, highlighted by high-scoring sophomore guard Danyella Mporokoso. The Warriors knocked off three high-profile teams — Downers Grove North, Benet and Alton — to land the program’s second trip to the state tournament and their first semifinal appearance.

Against Fremd, Mporokoso turned in an impressive line of 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 31:22 of action. Lily Newton scored 10 points and Laub tossed in nine points.

“Getting to state means a lot,” Waubonsie Valley coach Brett Love said. “Every year I set a goal to try and do better than we did last year. We really wanted to get back to the sectional championship and win that. We did that. We set our sights on the supersectional and tried to go as far as we could. It means a lot about improving and producing better than what we did last year.

“It’s going to be hard to beat 32 wins and get to state next year, but we’re up for the challenge. We have a lot of talent in our program. I think this group will work really hard and hopefully do the same next year.”

Fremd’s Coco Urlacher drives against Loyola Academy’s Julia Gamboa Friday, March 1, 2024 in the girls basketball 4A state semifinal at CEFCU Arena in Normal.
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.