Fenton comes full circle with Lady Bison win
Nanette Kastner, 38, of Gilberts has clear memories of some of the significant events of 1987. It was the year the New York Giants went to the Super Bowl and won. And it was the year Nanette Blair Kastner and the Fenton High School Lady Bison basketball players from Bensenville went to the Illinois High School Association women's regional basketball championship. And won.
A lot of things have changed for Kastner since 1987. She and husband Andrew are raising daughters Liann and Danielle in Gilberts, where she works as a part-time preschool teacher.
Yet, as Kastner is quick to point out, some things have come full circle.
"The New York Giants went back to Super Bowl this year, and they won. And the Fenton High School Lady Bison basketball players went back to the IHSA Class 3A regional tournament and won. Coincidence? I don't think so!"
Kastner recalls what it was like playing for Fenton 21 years ago.
"Each of us would have to make 100 free throws at almost every practice. Coach Al Ostrowski's mantra was: class plus poise equals victory.
"We played more of a finesse game. We couldn't play our type of game against teams today -- girls are stronger, faster and way more physical. In fact, our games were often called boring because we would get up by 10 points and stall the rest of the game. We held onto the lead for dear life, using the clock in our favor."
She added, "Three-pointers did not exist back then, so the other team wouldn't be able to catch up as fast. The 2008 team was chucking threes when they were up. Ostrowski would have blown a gasket. The 2008 champions played a lot more physically than we did back then. The game is much faster now."
Lady Bison Coach Tim Anderson of Elk Grove was hired as the Fenton girls basketball coach in 1988, the year after that winning season. While Anderson has taken some teams back to the regionals over the years, 2008 marks his first regional victory.
"It's been a long time coming," Anderson said. "The last time our team went to the regionals, there was no three-point line and the girls were using a men's basketball. In 1988, the IHSA added the three-point line and we started using a woman's basketball. Then the girls game really started to take off. The changes made it really exciting."
At the same time, Anderson admits it was a tough time to take the job as head coach.
"I had some pretty big shoes to step into. I was still wet behind the ears," he said.
When asked why this victory was such a long time coming, Anderson noted, "It's tough out there. Winning the regionals is not an easy thing to do. There are some real powerhouse programs that have very high expectations."
Anderson credits this year's victory to a great program, great players and some good-old-fashioned stick-to-itiveness.
"It's not like we were never trying," he said. "I've worked with a lot of wonderful kids along the way. This win is about the girls and the program. It's always been our goal and we were finally able to achieve it with this group of kids. Everybody is part of it."
Tricia Chiamas, 18, of Bensenville wasn't around in 1987 when Fenton earned the regional championship. But she was happy to play a role in the 2008 victory.
"We knew Fenton hadn't won a championship in 21 years and I'm not going to lie," Chiamas said, "we were nervous. But Coach Anderson had scouted the team and had a special game plan. He made sure we each understood our role and had plays ready to call out. We were never confused about what to do."
She added, "It's great to see that our team contributed to the Fenton trophy case. When I come back to visit, it will be nice to see the trophy there. To end the year like this is just amazing."
After the 53-45 victory over Elmwood Park on Feb. 14, Anderson hoisted a step ladder to cut down the net. Pieces of the net now hang from rear-view mirrors in several cars in the Fenton High School parking lot. That's where two-guard Mia Sansone, 18, of Bensenville, keeps hers.
"I'll probably hang it in my room eventually," she said.
Coach Anderson prefers to keep his piece of the net in his desk drawer -- "Our plaque in Fenton's trophy case is enough for me."