CHAMPAIGN, IL–Over the past five months, Glenbard West became more than a basketball team.
The Hilltoppers–Braden Huff, Caden Pierce, Ryan Renfro, Paxton Warden, and Bobby Durkin–captured hearts in Glen Ellyn.
Local adults attended high school basketball games for the first time in decades. Little kids collected Topps basketball cards of the team created by photographer Ted Piton. The cards were big hits as favors at birthday parties.
“There have been a lot of little kids come with the cards for autographs after games,” Hilltoppers senior Braden Huff said. “It’s been really cool and kind of surreal, especially after the last year.”
Glenbard West completed a goal seven years in the making on Saturday, beating Young 56-34 to win the Class 4A state championship.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Huff said. “To finally accomplish this goal, I can’t even describe it. It was a great atmosphere, all the fans came out today, the whole town of Glen Ellyn. Everyone was here supporting us it was crazy.”
Back when they started playing together in middle school, the Hilltoppers couldn’t have imagined how necessary their state title run would be for their community and Illinois high school basketball.
After more than two years without state championships, it was crucial for the sport to come back with a bang, to do something to grab the interest of the casual fan and remind Illinois that high school basketball is back and as important as ever.
That’s what the group of kids from Glen Ellyn accomplished this year. The Hilltoppers opened the season with 26 consecutive wins. Their only loss of the season was to Sierra Canyon, CA and it came at a three-pointer at the buzzer. The sold-out crowd showed the power of Glenbard West’s fan base and the excellent game against a national powerhouse featuring Amari Bailey and Bronny James showed the quality of the teams.
“They are unbelievable people and words can’t describe how I feel right now,” Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said. “If a group comes together for a common goal anything is possible. If you put the hard work and dedication in at anything in life you can achieve it. Just go out and get it.”
Glenbard West (37-1) led 25-16 at halftime. Huff, who took his normal game to another level against Sierra Canyon, did the same immediately against the Dolphins. Even athletic, 6-8 NIU Xavier Amos was unable to stop Huff in the post.
Huff scored 19 points, he was 8 of 13 shooting and had five assists. Warden led the way with 21 points. Renfro contributed 10 points and five rebounds.
The Hilltoppers beat Young 74-59 at a shootout on Jan. 22. The Dolphins heated up after that loss and won the city championship. But the rematch wasn’t any closer.
Amos led Young with 14 points. AJ Casey and Dalen Davis each added six.
It’s the first state title and the first state finals appearance for the Hilltoppers. Young won the AA state title in 1998 and Class 4A titles in 2009, 2014, and 2017. The Dolphins lost the Class 4A title game in 2010 and 2018.
The Public League’s streak of 14 consecutive years winning a state title in basketball is over. A Public League team had won a state title in every season since Derrick Rose and Simeon won the AA title in 2006, 20 titles total in the 14 seasons.
“I think tonight the best team won,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “They have had a phenomenal run and they capped it off the way they would have wanted to. I don’t have tears because my guys did everything I asked them to.”