Cook County girls basketball notes: Hersey celebrates retiring Fendley, Barthel

Wheeling girls basketball coach Beth Lucas Christell organized a Hersey alumni reunion last week when she brought her Wildcats to play in Arlington Heights.

Christell was a former player for Hersey coach Mary Fendley. At least 40 former players who played for Fendley were in the stands for the Mid-Suburban East game.

“We wanted to celebrate two people who have done so much for Hersey and the sport in general,” Christell said.

Christell was referring to the hall of famer Fendley and her assistant for all 25 seasons, Julia Barthel. Fendley is retiring from coaching and teaching at the end of the season while Barthel, the school's Athletic Director, is retiring from coaching.

You'd probably be hard pressed right now to find two coaches in Illinois working alongside each other for a quarter of a century.

“I think the girls have appreciated the consistency of how we try to run practices and games and how we try to be open and honest about why we do things,” Fendley said. “Over the years, we've settled into our roles and have been pretty consistent.”

Consistent as they come.

Fendley and Barthel's career record stands at 530-214 for an impressive .712 winning percentage.

Fendley, a math teacher, and Barthel have guided the Huskies to nine MSL East crowns and four MSL titles along with 13 regional titles and a fourth-place finish in the 2010 state tournament.

Fendley, who has coached at some level in 48 high school seasons (33 in basketball, 12 softball and 3 water polo), and Barthel are quite a team.

“The fact that they came in together and are going out together is even that much better,” said Megan Rogowski, who starred on that 2010 state finalist at DePaul University. “They're such a good team together. They're like a good peanut butter and jelly combination.”

“I think their teamwork elongated their careers,” Christell said. “They worked so well together, a dynamic duo.”

“Julia should be in the hall of fame,” said former Hersey Athletic director Dan Young. “But there is a rule that an assistant has to coach for 30 years.”

Fendley is one of the all-time winningest coaches in the state and obviously in the Mid-Suburban League.

But the numbers are hardly the things on Fendley's mind when she reflects on her past success which has included only one losing season.

“I'm super proud of the fact that two years after our only losing season (11-20 in 2008), we were playing in Redbird Arena,” Fendley said. “So those kids who were sophomore reserves (in 2008) ended up leading us to the state finals.”

One of those players was Kathyrn Korff, who was at the reunion game.

“She (Fendley) was just all in on us,” Korff said. “She became a friend and a leader before she was our coach.”

That's because Fendley put a lot of her time in developing the future Huskies in summer camps.

“I love that all our kids played in the Arlington Heights and Mt. Prospect park district programs,” Fendley said. “They weren't transfers or move-ins. I taught almost all of them how to shoot a layup at second grade basketball camp. So I love the fact that they've been here.”

In fact, Fendley has always made sure to send out the message to her players loud and clear that if you love playing basketball and you keep playing, there will be a spot to play at Hersey.

In fact, two starters this season (senior Natalie Alesia and junior Annika Manthy) were cut from the feeder teams.

“And now they obviously play important roles for us,” Fendley said. “They both stuck with it. Kelsey Neary (another starter) was on our freshman B team and a year later played for our undefeated and No. 1 state-ranked team during the COVID-19 season as a sophomore.”

Additionally, no one is a bigger proponent of multi-sport athletes than Fendley, a standout three-sporter herself (basketball, softball and swimming) at Rolling Meadows High School in the 1980s.

“We have always promoted and encouraged kids to be multi-sport athletes and they have consistently been on our teams,” Fendley said.

There's hardly a better example than this year's team in which five of the six seniors will play five different sports (three at the Division I level) in college: Katy Eidle (basketball at Michigan), Meghan Mrowicki (soccer at Notre Dame), Mackenzie Ginder (track and field at Wisconsin-Lacrosse), Neary (lacrosse at UConn) and Sabrina Divito (softball at Marion, Wis.).

“We love to encourage it because it's part of the high school experience,” Fendley said. “And our girls have done it throughout the years.”

A recent three-sport athlete is Mary Kate Fahey, who now plays for New York University, one of the top-ranked programs in the country.

The former Daily Herald All-Area Captain stressed the support Fendley provided her athletes.

“I have come to realize there aren't many coaches out there who support their players and genuinely care for them the way Fen does,” Fahey said. “She took the time to travel to Michigan to see my team and me compete in the Elite Eight last season which is something I will never forget. I can't thank her enough for always believing in me.”

Fendley's belief in her players hardly goes unnoticed.

“The way she loves her players and the game has been special,” Eidle said. “She just takes great pride in everything she does.”

“She did a great job with nurturing and keeping the team together,” Rogowski said. “Her nurturing created a lot of success throughout her whole career.”

A career in which Fendley says she had just as much during the offseason.

“I think my overall favorite thing about coaching in the off-season is hiring my varsity girls to work with the young campers in summer camp,” she said. “It's when I get to watch them share their skills with the next generation of players. It's special to watch and I think their excellence with the little ones is one of the reasons that each set of seniors is able to step up and know exactly what to do. It's because they've seen the girls ahead of them for so long, from some starting in the second grade.”

And Hersey fans have seen Fendley and Barthel working the sidelines for a quarter of a century.

“It's crazy,” said Alesia. “They've built a great program. A lot of great athletes have come through and we are really blessed to be able to play for them. They're a great duo, the best.”

“For them, to do this for so long, just proves how successful and how well they get along,” said Eidle, who has 2,032 career points after a 27-point game against Glenbrook South on Monday that included a 45-foot 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer and a nifty assist on Ginder's buzzer-beater in the third quarter. “I'm just glad they were able to get where they are now and of course I'm so proud of them.”

Eidle is the second Huskie to score 2,000 points.

Fendley also coached the other one, Rogowski, a 2011 grad who finished with 2,365.

“The way she (Fendley) loves her players and the game is special,” added Eidle, the 2022 Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year. “She just takes great pride in everything she does.”

Right from the beginning.

Hilary Young was a guard on one of Fendley's first teams.

“She's so dedicated,” said Young, a 2001 grad. “She cares about her kids and about the sport. And Barthel was a big part of the success, too. They're a great duo.”

Program staple: Fendley says without a doubt, the biggest fan of her program has been former Hersey athletic director (2000 to 2008) and math teacher Dan Young, who has kept the team's scorebook on the road for many years.

“He is just kind enough to do that for us when he is there,” Fendley said. “He is the ultimate Hersey fan. Dan is the guy who has driven hundreds of miles to do our scorebook or to just to watch great high school matchups.”

Fendley was a student teacher for Young in 1989 at Hersey.

“I knew then she was good,” said Young, whose son Kevin is the boys cross country coach at Hersey. “The kids were immediately drawn to her in the classroom and on the court. She has always been good friends with the kids, that's for sure.”

As to her success on the court, Young says Fendley's demeanor plays a big part.

“One big thing is her ability to stay calm and communicate,” Young said. “No matter how important the situation was, she can calm them down, communicate, listen and follow through.”

Interestingly enough, Young's children were students in Fendley's math classes at Hersey. The possibility exists that one day Young's son Kevin (a teacher at Rolling Meadows) could have Fendley's son Cole, an eighth-grader, in the classroom.

Putting it in perspective: For a quarter of a century, Fendley and Barthel have led the Hersey girls basketball team. That run will end after this season when they retire from their coaching duties.

“I've been a head coach for three years and I can't imagine myself getting to five, let alone 25,” said Wheeling coach Beth Lucas Christell. “To be with the same person for 25 years and have such success is just a testament to their combination.”

Christell's assistant Bill Murmann had some great success at St. Viator and Schaumburg as a head coach.

The former left tackle for Leyden quarterback Mike Shanahan (former NFL head coach) compiled a 104-64 record at St. Viator in six seasons from 1997 to 2003, winning one regional (2002) and producing a pair of 20-win seasons.

He then produced a 113-51 record in five seasons from 2003 to 2008 at Schaumburg High School, where he won three regional crowns, (2006, 2007 and 2008) along with four 20-win seasons and one 18-win season, giving him a career record of 217-115 in 11 seasons as a head coach.

Murmann actually remembered Christell from his coaching days at Viator, when the Lions won an overtime decision over Christell and Hersey for a regional championship.

Now he sits next to the former Huskie, who scored a career-high 27 points while at Hersey.

Speaking of big games, Christell and Murmann have seen their junior guard Marlena Miloucheva go above 40 points twice this season. She hit for a single-game school-record 48 against Streamwood and later scored 42 points against Leyden.

Swanson success:

Purdue pledge Sophie Swanson, the Illinois Ms. Basketball as a junior last season when she helped lead Barrington to second place in the Class 4A state finals, became only the third Fillie to score 2,000 points last Saturday with her game-high 38 points against Vernon Hills.

It's hardly been a surprise to Barrington hall of fame coach Babbi Barreiro.

“Honestly when Sophie walked into Barrington as a freshman, we all knew that she would be one of the best athletes to walk our halls,” said Barreiro, who has 498 career wins. “She combines an elite level of basketball talent with a love for competition. She wants to compete and win everything she does on the basketball court. Being Illinois Ms. Basketball as a junior is a rarity and that coupled with the 2,000 points overall is indeed elite in my experience in Illinois.”

“The fact that during the COVID season she only played 12 games and still eclipsed the 2,000 mark is extraordinary. Of course, Sophie cannot break that barrier alone. She's had a fantastic group of teammates over these four years to help her and I think she will tell you that.”

Swanson joins Lindsay Richard (Iowa) and Ashley Berggren (Illinois) in Barrington's 2,000 point club.

“I am completely proud of the work she has put in to get to where she is today and I am anxious to watch her impact at the Big Ten level at Purdue,” Barreiro added. ”But we have some games to play before that happens, and that is what we are focused on as we wind down the regular season and prepare for playoffs.”

Mazza buzzer-beater:

Jan. 24 was Teacher Appreciation Night for the Conant girls basketball team.

And the teachers in attendance had to really appreciate the ending.

Conant's Aria Mazza fired home the winning 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded to give the Cougars a dramatic 31-28 triumph over visiting Palatine.

The sophomore sharpshooter finished the game with 14 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist.

Familiar school:

Even before she committed to play basketball for the Northern Illinois women's basketball team, Fremd's Maddy Fay was familiar with the DeKalb college.

“My father (Kevin, a Rolling Meadows grad) played football at Northern so I kind of grew up watching NIU football games,” said Fay, whose mother Amy also played at Rolling Meadows (volleyball and basketball) before studying at Carthage College where she also played volleyball.

After helping Fremd to a win over Schaumburg last week, Maddy Fay and her teammates signed autographs in the school's cafeteria for all the feeder programs players.

“I would always come and watch the games (at Fremd) when I was their age and I would say, ‘I could never see myself playing at this level because they are so big, so fast,” Maddy said about the experience. “But now I'm here so it's kind of crazy to look back at it.”

Soon, she'll be off to Northern Illinois to study business and continue her hoops career.

“I can't wait, I've been talking to my coach a lot and really excited to get there,” Maddy said. “I always dreamed of going to play Division I basketball but wasn't sure it was going to happen until last year when I first started getting my first offers. So I'm super excited.

“But obviously my first priority is to finish out this season and we want to do big things in the playoffs.”

And so far she has helped the Vikes do big things, as they've earned a No. 2 ranking in the Class 4A state poll.

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