Short-handed Naperville North stays sharp in summer

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Naperville North was far from full strength during June. The Huskies were without leading scorer Kayla Sharples, guard Olivia Stapleton and forward Katie Cores due to club soccer commitments.

But that may not have been a bad thing for second-year coach Jason Dycus, who said it allowed younger kids an opportunity to compete against tough competition.

“I just think it helps some of our younger girls who haven’t played a lot of varsity,” Dycus said. “I’m hoping that experience will help us and [allow our goals] to come to fruition.”

The Huskies showed impressive improvement in Dycus’ first year, posting an 18-11 record and reaching the regional championship game despite having just two seniors on the roster.

Sharples, a Northwestern soccer recruit, led the team in nearly every offensive category — including averaging 19.2 points and 7 rebounds — en route to unanimous All-DuPage Valley Conference honors.

She was a Naperville Sun first team All-Area pick whom Dycus expects will have an All-State senior season.

But the 5-11 forward had to shoulder too much of the burden last winter and defenses bunched up on her.

“We can’t be just a Kayla Sharples team,” Dycus said. “We want to help Kayla out so people will not box-and-one us all the time. We need three scorers, so we need to have people step up.”

Two of the leading candidates to do that are juniors Laurel Pereira and forward CeCe Pope, both of whom are returning starters. They showed flashes of intriguing potential last winter.

The pair was instrumental during Naperville North’s summer appearances at the Neuqua Valley Shootout and the University of St. Francis Shootout, where the Huskies faced powers such as Marian Catholic, Joliet Catholic and Trinity. They went 3-2 at St. Francis, losing to Joliet Catholic and Trinity.

Pereira, a 5-10 guard, was North’s primary ballhandler and main three-point shooter who had a couple of game-winning shots. Pope, a sturdy post player, plays bigger than her 5-8 height and is a rebounding force who has struggled with injuries.

“They’re basketball kids who love the game and are dedicated to the gym,” Dycus said. “I think their hard work will help us.”

Pope figures to be a key in the paint. She is now healthy and could be an intimidating presence under the basket.

“She’s having a really good summer,” Dycus said. “The thing about CeCe that I love is she has a motor that doesn’t quit. She always gives 110 percent. I love coaching that type of mentality and I want that to be contagious.”

It has been a decade since the Huskies, who last won a regional title in 2005, have been considered an area power, but that may be changing.

Naperville North will play in the prestigious McDonald’s Shootout next January, and is progressing faster than Dycus expected. The Huskies are in position to achieve goals which Dycus envisioned the team reaching in his third or fourth season.

“We’re excited to play some tough competition and it is good to see where we’re at,” Dycus said.

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