Downers Grove North, Benet off to fast starts
Downers Grove North girls basketball coach Stephen Bolt missed a special week in his program's successful season.
Thus far, the Trojans have exceeded expectations by winning eight of their first nine games, including a 43-23 victory over Lincoln-Way East in the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase at Fremd on Saturday. Ryann Wendt scored 13 points and Maggie Fleming added 11 points and seven rebounds.
But Bolt missed all of the action on Saturday due to COVID-19 symptoms, causing assistant coaches Jasen Leathers and Bailey Greenaberg to lead the team during his one-week absence.
"The girls really stepped up in my absence and my assistants really did a great job finding a way to go 3-0 while I was gone," Bolt said.
Bolt said he anticipated a strong season due to all five starters coming back to go with a solid group of younger players. Bolt said his team's defensive intensity is a main factor for the solid start.
"We have a close knit group of talented players who don't really care who scores," he said. "They share the ball and defensively get it done. Everybody is back from last year, so we've hit the ground running this year. "Defensively, that's been the key. We defend people and will only get better as the season goes on. We focus on stopping people first. I think we can be a really great team come February close to the state tournament if we can continue to have that perspective of being great defensively."
The Trojans' length in the guard spot, led by Wendt and Kate Gross, is disruptive for opponents, while inside players Fleming and Eleanor Harris are solid defenders.
"They all trust each other and we're not just one player," Bolt said. "We play good team defense and take quality shots."
Kenzie Hare is blending in nicely with her new team. After lighting up the scoreboard for three years at Bartlett, Hare transferred to Naperville North in the offseason.
The Saint Louis recruit is a high-volume scorer, capable of filling up a stat sheet with a myriad of moves and her deep shooting range. Hare, who scored 1,838 points in her career at Bartlett, averaged 30.1 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 steals and 4.1 rebounds in her junior season. But Hare's not required to handle the bulk of the scoring for the Huskies. In Saturday's win over Barrington, Hare made four free throws in the final minute to seal the victory. She finished with 18 points, but teammate Layla Henderson added 13.
"We're a really close group and it shows in these close games like this," Henderson said. "We also have a lot of skill. I'm really hoping we can get to state, especially with the way we've been playing. A lot of us knew Kenzie before she got here, so it's been super easy for her to get acclimated to this team. We've just been clicking so far."
Hare said she's adjusted to playing with her new team, and not having the ball in her hands on every possession. Hare's addition immediately vaults the Huskies into contention for the Class 4A state title, making her the ideal replacement for Greta Kampschroeder, a McDonald's All-American last year.
"We've been playing well as a team, and been playing fast," Hare said. "We've also been working together and able to get good shots. We have 12 girls on the team who can make a play. My teammates are great passer, and like to get the ball to me in good spots. I'm excited to see what will happen for the rest of the season. We just beat a great Barrington team. Everyone's been super welcoming to me, so it's been an easy transition so far."
Benet on track for a big season:
Benet might have one loss on its record, but remains undefeated against in-state opponents. The Redwings' lone defeat came against La Lumiere, a prep school in Indiana. Benet notched a key 50-46 win over Libertyville in Saturday's tournament at Fremd. Morgan Demos scored 15 points to lead the Redwings (7-1).
"I think we've made good progress, but we've got a ways to go, especially in terms of consistency," Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. "We have to continue to build on where we're at, but mostly get more consistent.
"We've got a great point guard and a center in Lenee Beaumont and Demos, so that's every coaches love having. The kids have bought in, and we're working hard day in and day. It's still early, but we've got great pieces. Margaret Temple is another great piece. We've been very happy with Sam Trimberger. This is her first really varsity experience. Olympia Kokkines is played well, and we got Maggie and Emilia Sularski back. They're going to be good pieces and Emma Webb. We do really have a lot of pieces. That's helped us with our inconsistency, able to play jigsaw puzzle."