If the girls wearing the Burlington Central Rockets jerseys at the Dundee-Crown summer girls league this season seemed different, it’s because they were.
For most of the schedule, Samantha Pryor, Alison Colby, Shelby Holt, Kayla Ross, Rebecca Gerke and company were replaced by the sophomore team in their games against varsity competition from around the area because they played in another league — at Trinity against some of the best teams in the state.
“Dundee-Crown is a good league, but the competition at Trinity was even that much better,” Rockets coach Mark Smith said.
How good was it? The Rockets, who finished fourth in the state in Class 3A last year, played the likes of the powerful host team, Whitney Young, Fremd, Hinsdale Central, Montini and Kenwood.
“We were a little intimidated at first when we got to Trinity,” Smith said. “But after five nights and two games a night, by the end our confidence had grown and I felt like it was worthwhile.”
They played without their senior starting center Colby, who was with a choir singing at the Vatican. But the Rockets managed to make a statement. They lost an overtime game to defending state Class 3A champion Montini, the team they played a tight state semifinal contest with last year. They beat Fremd and Hinsdale Central.
“Just a lot of close games against good teams,” Smith said. “I was talking with Fremd’s coach (Bob Widlowski), and they did this last year and he said that really helped them going into the season.”
There were no transfers coming in for the Rockets. It’s still the same bunch that won a sectional title mostly as freshmen, and then won the school’s first state basketball trophy as a largely sophomore team in March this year.
“Just another year older and another year wiser,” Smith said.
Central got an immediate return on its investment, so to speak, as the experience of facing good competition paid off right away.
The Rockets got Colby back and went to the University of Illinois Team Camp last Saturday and Sunday. They won the championship of that camp, routing Joliet Catholic, the school that was second in 3A last year, by 22 points.
Along the way, they went 6-0 and their list of victims included Edwardsville, Belleville West, and a 4A team from just down the road — Huntley. They beat the Red Raiders convincingly, and Huntley had All-State player Ali Andrews playing.
“I don’t want to overemphasize who we beat because in some cases at these things you might be playing a team that’s in their third game of a day or they’re missing a player or two, but I have to say we’re very happy with the way things turned out there,” Smith said. “But overall it was a good camp for us.”
Central had also beaten Huntley in a closer game early in the Dundee-Crown league when the varsity played the first four games there before going to Trinity and turning it over to the sophomores.
“We finished up right about .500 against the other varsity teams,” sophomore coach Kyle Molik said. “It showed the depth of our program.
“There’s a good group here, and some more good classes coming up through the ranks for us at lower levels, so things are looking up all over.”