Coach: 2 Spartans, 2 Titans help lead Oakton womens basketball to best start ever
The Oakton Owls women's basketball team is off to their fastest start in school history. "Fast" would definitely be the operative word -- not just for their season's start, but for pretty much everything they do.
This team hits the ground (court!) running from the get-go. Full-court, full-speed, maximum pressure ... and giving opponents the comfort level of a rabbit surrounded by wolves.
"We play a kind of unique style," says high energy second-year coach Tony Siriscevich Jr. "We full-court press the entire game, we fast break every chance we get, we try to get up a lot of shots, and we substitute liberally -- sometimes five at a time -- and play up to 15 girls total."
The team, with their high octane offense, averages an amazing 84 points per game, and they have scored over 100 points three different times. They also lead the junior college nation with -- are you ready for this? -- 28 steals per game!
Basketball fans, you need to get yourself over to Central and River roads in Des Plaines and check out this "Hoot and Shoot offense" (Owls? Hoot? Sorry, but I couldn't resist) that is beginning to get a real fan following.
"Oh yeah," Coach Siriscevich says, "people are starting to come to the games now. Not just because we are winning, but because we play an entertaining style and because so many different girls get to play. All the moms, dads, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, friends, etc. are showing up and giving us a nice home court atmosphere."
The team comprises players from all over the suburbs, and one who isn't (more on her later) including quality contributions from four former Glenbrook High School students: two Titans and two Spartans.
The veteran of the bunch is ex-Titan Challen Flaws, a sophomore playing for a second year in the new program.
"Challen is not just our starting point guard, but she has been a real vocal leader. She has a certain presence about her that makes all of her teammates better players, and she is an outstanding defender and passer," her coach states proudly.
Coach Tony also raves about another ex-Titan helping the squad, Tabitha Tibbitts.
"Tabitha came to us because I knew her AAU coach, and because high school teammate Challen encouraged her to join. She has been a great addition, playing key minutes at the wing position, and has a great attitude and love of the game. She has been a big part of our success," he adds.
Once archrivals on the court, the two Glenbrook South players are now teammates and close friends with the Tabitha and Challen, from Glenbrook North.
Jamie Kempner, who starred for the Spartans in her high school days, has been instant offense coming off the bench for the Owls averaging over 10 points per game.
"Actually, because of some injuries and illnesses, Jamie has started five or six of our games," coach says. "Jamie is really coming into her own now, gaining confidence and becoming a go-to player for us. She went to Carthage College to play at first but transferred here, and I think she is really enjoying playing our style. We expect great things to come from Jamie as she plays a bigger and bigger role for our team."
Maybe the most unlikely of the four District 225 players on the Oakton team is ex-Glenbrook North guard Alex Ponte. She didn't even play on the team her senior year at North, despite being a key player for the Spartans her first three years, but she has rekindled her love for the game, joining her ex-teammate Kempner and playing some solid minutes for the Owls.
"Alex is a role-player for us right now," her coach says. "She is backing up Challen at the point guard position, but she is getting better all the time, has been a great teammate, and another one who we think has a lot of upside as we move on."
The Glenbrook foursome themselves talk about their experience so far with this highflying, energy-laden hoops team, and why they chose to play at Oakton.
"I enjoy playing close to home, and I knew Coach Siriscevich wanted to really build a program here at Oakton," says Flaws, adding "I knew with his connections that he would recruit some talent, and also I think his style of play really fits my attitude and personality,"
"I did not even think of playing college basketball for most of my high school years," says Tabitha, "But then during senior season I started to consider it, and being friends with Challen and her talking up the program, convinced me to give it a shot. It is a lot of hard work, playing the style and pace we play and practice at, but it definitely keeps things interesting, and I am really glad to be part of it!"
"I didn't play senior year of high school because of school work load, so it wasn't really even in my mindset to play at the next level," says the former Spartan Alex Ponte, "but then I got a call from Coach Siriscevich who wanted me to come onto the team. I got excited about basketball again, and I thought this might be one final chance to show what I can do and maybe even earn a scholarship at the next level. It's really fun being on the team, getting to know so many girls from other schools, and how we have all become a tightknit group now."
Ponte adds, "It has been an adjustment though. I was used to playing a more patterned, slower style of basketball, and here, we go fast all the time. It is definitely different, but I am enjoying it and other teams and fans are starting to notice us."
Finally, former Spartan star point guard Jamie Kempner recalls, "I had always dreamed of playing college basketball, but my first year at Carthage I got kind of discouraged. Then coach called me and encouraged me to come play at Oakton, and it has really brought back my love of basketball. It is an intense but enthusiastic style of basketball, and I am definitely enjoying it. Our team is very close after playing together all summer."
It should be mentioned Siriscevich started the program completely from scratch. The Oakton women's team had been shut down for a couple years, so they had no players when he first took over as head coach two years ago.
"It was one of the things that drew me to the job," he says. "A chance to completely build a program at a quality school like Oakton and get my type of players in here," he said.
He used all of his connections from his days as a boys coach at various schools, as well as from his current job as Chicago police officer, and his many friends playing championship level 16-inch softball around the city and suburbs.
"I tapped every source I could," says Siriscevich, "even asking parents or players if there were girls out there that didn't play in high school but maybe had some real talent that could help us."
The Owls team has players from all over, including Maine West, Niles North, Evanston, Resurrection, Taft, St. Josephs, Schurz, North Chicago and Wyoming.
That last one is not a typo, folks. That's Wyoming, as in the state of! Amy Campbell, a three-time All-State basketball and volleyball player from the Cowboy State, has made the long trip to Des Plaines to join the locals.
Coach explains "We put an advertisement in one of the publications looking for players, and Amy -- who didn't get recruited by any of the big time colleges -- saw the ad and contacted me. She just wanted a chance to play and prove her worth. So she made the long trip from Wyoming and has been one of our best players."
Now, and finally, after a long delay due to COVID, the Oakton team is ready to return to action. Will they be ready after the long delay? Will they be able to keep the momentum coming?
Actually, the better question would be: With their frenetic style of play and their never-back-down mentality, will opponents be ready for them?
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email email@example.com.