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Boys Basketball

IHSA releases classifications for 2015-16 school year

in Baseball/Boys Basketball/Boys Cross Country/Boys Soccer/Boys Track/Football/Girls Basketball/Girls Cross Country/Girls Soccer/Girls Track/Golf/Softball/Tennis/Volleyball/Wrestling by

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) released the classifications breakdown for the 2015-16, and Kaneland will not see any changes to their sports landscape from the 2014-15 season.

• Baseball: 3A (four classes)
• Basketball (boys and girls): 3A (four classes)
• Cross Country
(boys and girls): 2A (three classes)
• Cheerleading: Middle
(three classes—small, medium, large)
• Dance: 2A (three classes)
• Football: Determined at the
end of the regular season
• Golf (boys): 2A (three classes)
• Golf (girls) AA (two classes)
• Softball: 3A (four classes)
• Scholastic Bowl: AA (two classes)
• Soccer (boys and girls): 2A (three classes)
• Track and Field (boys and girls):
2A (three classes)
• Volleyball: 3A (four classes)
• Wrestling: 2A (three classes)

Enrollment for the high school is up 19 students—1,310 to 1,329 —from the 2014-15 school year to the upcoming year. Since classification cut offs vary from sport to sport depending on the number of schools that participate in each sport throughout the state, the Knights had some close calls this upcoming season. Kaneland was 49 students away from moving up to 4A in basketball, 17 students away from moving to 4A in volleyball, and 11 away from moving up to 3A in track and field.

Heading ‘West’

in Boys Basketball/Kaneland by

Kaneland’s Johnson new boys basketball coach at West Aurora
MAPLE PARK—The West Aurora High School School Board approved the appointment of Brian Johnson as its new head boys basketball coach on Monday. Johnson had been the head boys coach at Kaneland High School for the past six years, where he won two conference championships and three regional championships.

He replaces the legendary Gordie Kerkman, who coached the Blackhawks for 39 years before retiring this spring.

Johnson said he called Kerkman after he had announced his retirement to thank him for his mentorship and all Kerkman has contributed to Illinois basketball. Before becoming head coach at Kaneland, Johnson had served as an assistant to Kerkman for one year at West Aurora, and they had kept in touch ever since.

“When we spoke, Gordie encouraged me to apply for the position,” Johnson said. “I was excited about the prospect of coaching a historic program in a great basketball community. I enjoyed my brief stay at West Aurora and was impressed by the school’s student body, academic excellence, and administrative leadership. I consider West Aurora to be one of the top-5 high school basketball jobs in the state and am very excited to have this opportunity.”

Johnson has hit the ground running since his appointment and is, right now, in his first week of the Blackhawks’ two-week summer basketball camp.

“Defensively, one thing I know for sure is that we are going to continue the West Aurora tradition of playing hard-nose, man-to-man defense,” Johnson said. “Offensively, by the end of camp I’ll know what kind of weapons we have and how we’ll need to play to make the most of them.”

Johnson commented that leaving Kaneland was not easy.

“I’ve had great players and great relationships here with my teams, students, faculty, and staff members. When I told my team I was leaving, I explained that I needed to pursue my full potential as a coach just as I’ve told them they must pursue their full potential as players. They were very supportive of my decision and wished me luck. I received the same kind of support from principal Jill Maras and athletic director Peter Goff and will always be grateful for the time I spent here,” he said.

Johnson the ‘recommended candidate’ for West Aurora varsity basketball coach position

in Boys Basketball/Kaneland by

AURORA—Kaneland’s Brian Johnson on Tuesday was named the recommended candidate for the physical education teacher and head boys basketball coach vacancies at West Aurora High School, pending School Board approval on Monday, June 15.

Johnson has been the head varsity boys basketball coach at Kaneland High School since 2009, with an overall record of 99-68. Under his leadership, his teams have won three Conference championships and two Regional championships. Johnson is also a physical education teacher at Kaneland.

Prior to Johnson’s time at Kaneland, he served as a varsity boys basketball assistant head coach and physical education teacher at West Aurora High School. He also served as a varsity boys basketball coach, sophomore boys basketball coach and physical education teacher at Dundee-Crown High School.

Johnson obtained his Master’s Degree in teaching from Rockford College. Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Judson University.

Both Johnson and Kaneland Athletic Director Peter Goff declined to comment when contacted by the Elburn Herald.

Neahring to be inducted into coaches Hall of Fame

in Boys Basketball/Golf by

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.—The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) has announced that it will be inducting long-time Kaneland coach Ken Neahring into its Hall of Fame in a ceremony to be held at the Bone Center at Illinois State University on Saturday, May 2.

A former physical education and driver’s education teacher, he is being inducted as a “career coach”—a category that requires at least 30-years of coaching excellence.

Neahring began coaching boys’ basketball at Franklin Center High School, where his .825 winning percentage from 1977-86 produced multiple conference championships and the first regional and sectional championships in Franklin Center history—a period the school’s website calls its “basketball glory years.”

In 1986, Neahring accepted the head basketball coaching position at Kaneland High School where, in 1987, the Knights won the regional championship. He was replaced as head coach the following year, however.

While continuing to be an assistant football coach and girls’ softball coach at Kaneland, Neahring served as assistant men’s basketball coach at Waubonsee Community College. In 1998, he was again assigned head boys’ basketball coaching duties for the Knights, a position he held until his retirement from teaching in 2003. In total, he served as an assistant girls’ softball coach for 12 years at Kaneland and continues to be an assistant golf coach—a career that has now spanned 13 years. In all the sports in which he has been a head coach, he has posted a career winning percentage of .635.

Bruce Firchau, chairman of the IBCA Hall of Fame Committee, said Neahring was nominated for the Hall of Fame by his former assistant coaches. That nomination and Neahring’s coaching resume was reviewed last November by the IBCA Board of Directors, which approved him for induction this year.

The 43rd annual IBCA Hall of Fame festivities on Saturday, May 2, will begin with an afternoon reception at the host hotel, and conclude with a dinner at the Bone Center that is referred to as “The Academy Awards of Illinois Basketball.” The 1,200-seat dinner has been sold-out since March and is the largest banquet held on the Illinois State University campus.

“It’s a great honor to be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame,” Neahring said. “To be included in a fraternity of so many great coaches; it was unexpected. It is much appreciated, and it is the highlight of a wonderful career of coaching several generations of great young men and women. That has truly been a privilege. I loved every minute of it, and I continue to love being involved with Kaneland athletics as an assistant golf coach.”

Regional rupture

in Boys Basketball by
Laura Gampfer KHS Boys Basketball at Central 3-6-15-2

Photo: Juniors Mitchel Groen (left) and Ryan David fight for a rebound Friday against Hampshire. Photos by Laura Gampfer

Kaneland survives Burlington Central, falls to Hampshire in Regional Championship
BURLINGTON, ILL.—A great defensive battle against Burlington Central March 4 saw Kaneland boys basketball shoot 11 free throws in the fourth quarter while scoring zero field goals to win 53-46.

Two nights later, the Knights could not overcome a 20-point first quarter deficit to the Hampshire Whip-purs in a 71-63 loss in the Class 3A Regional Championship.

Burlington Central struck first with a 10-4 run in the first five minutes of the contest. Rockets guard TaVonte Harris led the way with a pair of three-pointers en route to five first-quarter points. Kaneland kept themselves in it early thanks to aggressive play by guard Connor Fedderly (14 points) and forward Ryan David (14 points). Burlington Central sophomore Joseph Ratzek hit a trey at the end of the first frame to give the Rockets an 18-11 lead.
Laura Gampfer KHS Boys Basketball at Central 3-6-15-1
After Burlington Central center Ryan Fitzgerald scored four straight points to open the second quarter, Kaneland came out on fire offensively. A 4-0 run led by Fedderly (six points on two three-pointers in the quarter) cut the Rockets’ lead to two in the first two minutes. Although the Rockets matched their extremely fast offensive tempo with good ball distribution, they managed only seven points in the second frame, thanks to Fitzgerald and guard Andrew Wiss. Two-point field goals by David and guard Dylan Vaca (six points), along with a three-pointer by forward Steven Limbrunner and a trey by Fedderly, cut Burlington Central’s lead to 25-24 at halftime.

Burlington Central went on a 12-3 run in the first 3:45 of the second half. With the Rockets lead at 10, the Knights came roaring back behind three three-pointers from David, Vaca and guard Mark Lilly (10 points). Forward Zach Douglas’ two free throws allowed Kaneland to take the lead with 1:36 to go in the third quarter. The Knights took a 42-40 advantage into the final period of play.

The fourth quarter was both a defensive battle and perplexing offensive stalemate throughout most of the final frame. Both teams were held scoreless through the first 4:43 of the last quarter until Rockets’ guard Luke McCurdy hit his only two points of the contest—a field goal-to tie the game. David hit two free throws to give the Knights their first points of the quarter. As Kaneland kept drawing fouls late, the Knights proceeded to shoot nine more free throws—three from Lilly and six from Fedderly—without hitting a single field goal to seal the win for Kaneland.

“That’s what this team needs me to do. I’ve been there before; (I’ve) been the end-of-the-game guy for three years now. I’m pretty confident at the line,” Fedderly said. “I know that I’m a senior leader on this team. If I bring my level of intensity down, then everyone else will. I’ve been here four years. I know how to crank it up at the end and stay intense the whole time.”

Head coach Brian Johnson was pleased with his team’s effort.
Laura Gampfer KHS Boys Basketball at Central 3-6-15-10
“We kept getting stops. Even though we turned the ball over, we kept getting stops, and that’s the name of the game,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to keep teams to 44 points a game. They (Burlington Central) came out strong to start the third quarter. We just started hitting some big shots. Dylan (Vaca) hit a big three. Mark (Lilly) hit a big three. We had some big put-backs (and) some offensive rebounds. You gotta make good plays to win big games, (and) it’s not one guy who steps up. It’s a bunch of different guys who step up. It was definitely a unified effort.”

When asked if he’d ever coached a Regional game that didn’t have his team score a regulation basket in the fourth quarter, Johnson said, “Definitely not,” with a laugh.

On Friday, the No. 1-seeded Hampshire Whip-purs broke quickly out of the gate to start the first half. Hampshire went on a 6-0 run in the first 1:15 of the first quarter. Despite two early three-pointers by David (14 points), the Knights had a slow offensive attack to start the game. Kaneland committed five team fouls early on as its defense faltered, as well. Whip-purs forward Brennen Woods poured in 13 first- quarter points of his own as Hampshire led 30-10 after the first frame.

Kaneland slowly began to show some fire on offense in the second quarter. Center Jacob Gomes scored four straight points to begin the quarter for the Knights, and scores by Lilly (six points), Fedderly (three points) and forward Limbrunner (Kaneland game-high 20 points) helped the Knights to tally 13 points in the second frame. The Whip-purs tied Kaneland with 13 points of their own and took a 20-point lead into halftime.

Kaneland began a furious comeback to start the second half. Limbrunner fired three treys and Vaca (10 points) added one of his own. David and Douglas (four points) chipped in field goals as Fedderly showed early aggression on defense. Despite 13 third-quarter points scored by Hampshire, the Whip-purs were outscored by the Knights 18-13. Hampshire took a 56-41 lead into the final period of play.

“We were down by 20 (points) or so. We were all just talking at halftime about getting it (the deficit) down to 10,” Limbrunner said. “Get into the fourth quarter down by 10 (and) give us a chance to come back. You’ve just gotta fight hard and not give up. In the first half, our defense was not up to where we needed it to be exactly. We just needed to step it up more on defense.”

The Knights began a last-ditch rally in the fourth quarter. Limbrunner connected on two more three-pointers early on as Kaneland fans began chants of “MVP! MVP!” and the Knights cut Hampshire’s lead down to 11. Hampshire continued to keep the surging Knights at bay as Matt Bridges scored 10 points in the final period. Another trey by Vaca and two-of-two free throws by David cut the lead to 11 again late in the game. Limbrunner drilled his sixth three-pointer of the game to cut Hampshire’s lead down to eight with 29.4 seconds to go in the contest. The Knights would draw no closer as Hampshire retained possession in the final seconds to seal the win and the Class 3A Regional Championship for the Whip-purs.

“Steven (Limbrunner) was outstanding. (He) put on a show. What a way to go out as a senior,” Johnson said. “What Steven did tonight was special. He’s one of those kids that’ll be there (practicing) at 6 in the morning, working on his game whether you know it or not. He doesn’t tell anybody. He just goes and works.”
Laura Gampfer KHS Boys Basketball at Central 3-6-15-3
“We were down 20 (points) at the end of the first quarter. You can only fight so much. I’ll give credit to our guys. They never gave up and made a game out of it. You can’t dig a hole that big in the first quarter and expect to win the game. Hampshire’s a good team,” Johnson said. “They were able to find the open man and hurt us when we were trapping. That’s (having poor starts) been an issue for us all year. When we’ve started well, we’ve been in games. When we’ve started poorly, we usually lose by a lot. (Our boys) fought hard. Connor Fedderly (was) consistent and really worked hard, and so did Zach Douglas.”

Johnson took time to reflect on the 2014-15 season.

“At times we struggled, and we played poorly. At times we looked liked world-beaters and played well and played really hard. The season was an up and down roller coaster. At one point we were 2-7, and to finish 14-16; to be the only team to beat DeKalb (Barbs) in our league; to beat Central on their own floor, and the playoffs; that says something to how hard the boys worked, and how they never gave up,” Johnson said. “These guys stuck with it and fought hard.”

“We started off rough—I think 1-6. We just told ourselves (that) we can’t have a season like that,” Limbrunner said. “So we battled back and got to .500 midway through the season, I’m sure. Around mid-season, we just kept fighting and got ourselves to the Regional Championship.”

Knights rebound

in Boys Basketball by
Senior Zach Douglas had six points against Wheaton Academy Monday night.
Photo by Laura Gampfer
Senior Zach Douglas had six points against Wheaton Academy Monday night. Photo by Laura Gampfer
Senior Zach Douglas had six points against Wheaton Academy Monday night.
Photo by Laura Gampfer

Kaneland defeats Sterling, blasts past Wheaton Academy in Regional
KANELAND—Kaneland boys basketball defeated the visiting Sterling Golden Warriors 74-60 on Friday night, and then beat the Wheaton Academy Warriors 67-53 in the opening round of the IHSA 3A Regional Tournament at Burlington Central on Monday.

The wins give the Knights a 13-15 overall record and a record of 7-6 in Northern Illinois Big XII Conference play.

In last week’s home finale, Kaneland controlled the lead throughout the contest and outscored Sterling in three of four quarters of play. Dylan Vaca led all scorers with 19 points. Also in double-digit points for the Knights were forwards Mitchel Groen with 13 points, Ryan David with 12 points and center Jacob Gomes with 10 points.

Wheaton Academy opened the Friday contest on a 4-0 run in the first 1:30. Two early turnovers by Kaneland, combined with great ball distribution by the Warriors, turned into points for Wheaton Academy forwards Evan Williams and Anthony Polinski, as well as guard Christian Smith.

The Knights answered right back with an 11-0 run in the last five minutes of the first frame, courtesy of forwards David (Kaneland and overall game-high 17 points) and Zach Douglas (six points), and guards Mark Lilly (13 points, including eight-of-nine free throws) and Tanner Robertsen (four points). Lilly set the tone for the entire game, setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities while looking for his own shot and aggressively drawing fouls throughout the night. Kaneland led Wheaton Academy 14-8 at the end of the first quarter.

The Knights out-hustled the Warriors in the second quarter, sparking a 6-2 run in the first four minutes of play. Aggressive defense, good offensive ball distribution, a trey by forward Steven Limbrunner and a three-point-play by Gomes got the Knights off and running. The Warriors cut a 10-point deficit down to five in the last three minutes of the frame with three-pointers from Christian Smith, Polinski and guard R.W. Rienow. A last-second trey by Lilly helped give the Knights a 30-22 lead at halftime.

Kaneland opened up its lead even further in the second half, as the Knights exploded for 20 third-quarter points. Lilly continued his aggressive play on both sides of the court as David scored eight points. Vaca chipped in five points, including four consecutive. Guard Connor Fedderly (eight points) fired a three-ball, while Robertsen hit two from the free throw line and forward Groen (five points) sank a two-pointer, as well. The Warriors tallied 13 points in the frame behind five points from Williams, another trey by Christian Smith and two-point baskets by guard Bryce Sandberg and forward Tommy Blum. Kaneland took a commanding 50-35 lead—their biggest of the night—into the final period of play.

Both teams looked to take advantage of the other being over the foul limit early in the fourth quarter. Although the Warriors, who outscored the Knights 18-17 in the final frame, cut Kaneland’s lead to 10, thanks in part to three three-pointers by Sandberg and Polinski, a total of 13 free throws by Gomes, Groen, Lilly and Fedderly (five apiece for the latter two) and great team defense helped seal the win for the Knights.

Lilly’s ability to draw fouls late was a key factor in Kaneland’s victory.

“He’s (Lilly) a point guard. That’s a leadership position. I thought by far that was his best floor game he’s had all year,” said head coach Brian Johnson. “He just competed. He made free throws down the stretch, and he made good decisions with the basketball. That’s something that we’ve talked about all year, and it’s nice to see it come to fruition.”

David knew the Knights had to ramp up the effort.

“We just tried to bring our intensity to the next level, come out here and leave it all on the floor,” David said. “Me and Mark (Lilly) were just on the same page tonight. Everything was just working. When it came down to the end, he had some big free throws throughout the entire fourth quarter.”

The Knights on Wednesday took on Regional host Burlington Central in round two of the tournament, with results unavailable as of press time.

“It’ll be a tough game,” David said. “I think we can do it. We competed against them earlier in the season. I think it’ll be a good game.”

Knights lose close contest to Yorkville

in Boys Basketball by

Suffer four-point loss to West Chicago Tuesday
KANELAND—Although the Kaneland boys basketball team kept the score much closer this time than in its previous game against Yorkville, the Knights once again fell to the Foxes 54-52 on Friday night.

On Tuesday, it was more of the same, with the Knights dropping a 60-56 game to visiting West Chicago.

Kaneland’s overall record sits at 11-15 and 6-6 in Northern Illinois Big XII Conference play.

The first quarter against Yorkville began with an evenly-matched defensive battle between both teams as Knights guard Connor Fedderly (five points) controlled Kaneland’s offense early. Forward Zach Douglas hit two early free throws, and guard Mark Lilly and forward Mitchel Groen (four points) showed good hustle early in the game. Additional free throws by Lilly and Douglas, a two-point basket by guard Dylan Vaca (seven points) and a three-pointer by Fedderly gave the Knights their first 11 points of the contest.

The Foxes led the Knights by one at the end of the first frame.

The second quarter found Kaneland struggling to find the open man early. Still, center Jacob Gomes led the Knights with five second-quarter points. Two-point shots by Lilly and Vaca and a trey by forward Ryan David (Kaneland and overall game-high 17 points) contributed to Kaneland’s scoring, as well. However, the Foxes tightened up their defense and turned up the heat on offense, going on an 11-6 run in the first five minutes. Bondurant led the way with six points as the Foxes out-scored the Knights 18-12 to take a 30-23 lead at halftime.

The third quarter saw the Foxes go on a 4-0 run in the first 4:19, including four straight points by Payne. Kaneland’s team foul trouble (six) and early difficulty at the free throw line enabled Yorkville to gain its biggest lead of the night—11 points—midway through the frame. The Knights fought back, outscoring the Foxes 14-11 behind four points from David and continued scoring by Lilly, Vaca, Groen and Douglas. Kaneland cut Yorkville’s lead to four at 41-37 heading into the final frame.

In the fourth quarter, David was relentless on offense, with 10 points, including two three-pointers, as the Knights took the lead with 5:20 to go in the game. The Foxes answered right back with treys of their own—Bondurant hitting two—as the lead shifted back and forth. A three-point play by David gave the Knights the lead 52-51 with 46.5 seconds remaining. With 12.6 seconds left, Yorkville guard Dan Kaczmarek buried a three-pointer to give the Foxes a 54-52 advantage. Vaca missed a last-second three-point shot attempt for Kaneland as Yorkville hung on for the win.

“Ryan (David) stepped up and made some big shots. Unfortunately down the stretch, we had a lot of turnovers. I thought our free throw shooting was pretty poor. That altogether equals a tough game, but Ryan made some tough shots,” head coach Brian Johnson said. “I though we had some nice defensive stops down the stretch to get back in the game. Unfortunately, we turned the ball over when we were up by one, instead of making them (Yorkville) foul us and us hitting shots at the free throw line.”

Johnson also addressed his decision to start Lilly and Douglas ahead of guard Tanner Robertsen and Gomes.

“Zach’s been playing extremely well. He brings a little different energy. He’s a senior, and I thought it was time to maybe mix some things up—take Tanner out of the lineup (and) put Mark (Lilly) in. I thought the way we’d been starting in games the last week we needed to have a change. It was a little different look, but sometimes roles change,” he said.

On Tuesday West Chicago jumped out to an early 17-11 lead, before the Knights closed the lead to 31-29 at halftime. An evenly-matched second half helped West Chicago hold the Knights at bay for the victory. Vaca led all scorers with 20 points, while Steven Limbrunner had 17.

Sterling travels to the KHS gym this Friday at 7 p.m.

Sports recap
Don’t see your results in the Elburn Herald? Have your coach fax them to (630) 365-2251 or email them to sports@elburnherald.com.

Boys Soph. Basketball
Feb. 24 vs. West Chicago—The Knights won 36-28. Jack Marshall led KHS with 15 points, while Luke Calabrese had six. Jake Hed and Garrett Hukle each had four points.

3 of a kind

in Boys Basketball by

Boys basketball loses three in a row
KANELAND—The Knights on Friday night simply had no answers for the DeKalb Barbs’ relentless offense and overpowering defense. DeKalb overwhelmed the Knights 60-37 on the Barbs’ home floor.

On Saturday night, Kaneland would falter again—this time at home—as the Larkin Royals defeated them 68-51.

The Knights continued their mini-skid Tuesday evening, losing to Geneseo 59-53 at home.

Kaneland’s overall record sits at 11-13 and 6-5 in the Northern Illinois Big XII Conference.

DeKalb was off and running from the very beginning of Friday’s game and never let up. The Barbs were ultra-aggressive on both sides of the court as Kaneland committed early turnovers and forced shots continuously against DeKalb’s stifling defense. The Barbs went on a 21-3 run in the first quarter as Barbs guard/forward Michael Pollack hit two of his three three-pointers. Guard Rudy Lopez added an additional trey, and contributions from forward Luke Davis and guard/forward Jace Kitchen helped build Dekalb’s commanding lead. Only a quarter-ending three-pointer by guard Dylan Vaca (team-high 11 points) saved Kaneland from a complete first-frame shutout.

The Knights were again out-gunned by DeKalb in the second quarter despite Vaca showing poise at the free throw line (five-of-seven). The Barbs went on a 19-8 run in the second frame, led by two slam-dunks and a three-pointer by Kitchen. Another trey by Pollack and field goals by guard Ethan Conroy and forward Robert Mitchell put DeKalb up 40-11 at halftime. Kaneland scored eight points behind Vaca, center Jacob Gomes (four points) and forward Zach Douglas (two points.)

Kaneland began to show signs of life in the second half as it outscored DeKalb 15-14 and 11-6 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. In the third frame, guard Connor Fedderly scored all of his five points and showed the relentless aggression that has become his trademark on both sides of the court. In the third, Vaca hit a three-pointer, forward Ryan David scored all of his four points, guard Tanner Robertsen split two from the line and Gomes scored two on a dunk. The Knights were also more aggressive on the boards as they went on an 8-5 run to start the second half. However, foul trouble was Kaneland’s undoing as it committed 10 in the third quarter alone. Kitchen, Davis and guard Cole Tucker combined to hit eight free throws for DeKalb as it led 54-26 heading into the final period of play.

With starters on the bench in the fourth quarter, Kaneland found inspiration in the form of forward Steven Limbrunner, who hit three-of-three three-pointers for nine points while guards Kevin Fajardo and Jacob Marczuk each split a pair from the line. However, substance won over inspiration on the night as the Barbs padded their huge lead with six additional points on free throws from Conroy and field goals from forwards Ahmed Gadim and Terrell Farrell. The Barbs’ first-half offensive barrage was just too much for the Knights to overcome.

Kaneland head coach Brian Johnson gave his take on his team’s blowout loss after the game.

“They (DeKalb) came out with a lot more energy than we did. They were kind of a team on a mission in that first quarter,” he said. “They did a good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do; they did a great job of making us feel uncomfortable on offense. Defensively, we really couldn’t play ‘D,’ because it was fast break after fast break, or open shot after open shot.”

Johnson praised Fedderly’s play on both sides of the court.

“He plays hard all the time. He was trying to be a leader on the floor by just working hard. That’s who Connor is,” Johnson said. “He’s probably one of our hardest workers, and he wasn’t going to give up. No matter what the end score was, I knew Connor was going to put forth the max effort. That’s just how he plays.”

Johnson also evaluated the performance of Limbrunner and other players who came off the bench in the fourth quarter.

“They play hard. A lot of the times, those guys do our scout stuff. So when they get a chance, they want to play hard,” Johnson said. “Steven (Limbrunner’s) a senior (and) he can catch fire, and he made some nice shots. He was ready to shoot those open jumpers. He plays hard, he’s a great kid (and) has a great work ethic, and I’m glad he had some success tonight. That whole group was playing hard and just trying to finish up the game strong, and that’s all you can ask.”

On Saturday, the Knights again fell behind early in their home loss to the Larkin Royals. Despite 23 points from Vaca, Kaneland could not overcome a 22-point third-quarter onslaught by the visitor.

Tuesday saw the Knights enter the fourth quarter up 46-39, but the Leafs outscored KHS 20-9 in the final frame to steal the win on the road 59-53. David had a team-high 18 points, while Lilly had 13 and Vaca 11 points.

The varsity boys go on the road this Friday to take on Yorkville at 7 p.m.

Photos by Mary Paulson

Feb. 19 sports recap

in Boys Basketball/Girls Basketball by

Don’t see your results in the Elburn Herald? Have your coach fax them to (630) 365-2251 or email them to sports@elburnherald.com.

Girls Basketball

Feb. 6 @ Yorkville—A tight game got out of hand when Yorkville went on a 16-6 run on their way to a 35-17 win over the Knights. Kristen Siebert led the Knights with seven points and seven rebounds, while Carley Elliott had six points.
Feb. 7 vs. Ottawa—The visiting Pirates bested the Knights 35-31, despite a Kaneland comeback. Siebert led with 10 points and seven rebounds, while Jamie Martens put in nine points and eight rebounds. Sydney Davidson had 10 rebounds to go along with five points.
Feb. 12 vs. Sterling—In their season finale, the Knights turned a five-point lead going into the fourth quarter to a 34-20 win. Siebert led with 10 points and five rebounds. Jenna Harvell had eight points, while Addie Ringel had four points and eight rebounds. Elliott had five points. The Knights ended the year with a 16-9 overall record, and a 9-4 record in the Northern Illinois Big XII, earning second place in the conference.

Sophomore Basketball

Feb. 11 @ St. Charles North—The North Stars beat the Knights 55-36. Jake Hed led the Knights with 13 points. Luke Calabrese had six points, Garrett Hukle had five points and Josh Pollastrini had four points.
Feb. 13 @ DeKalb—The Knights beat DeKalb 39-31. Pollastrini led the team with 13 points, with three three-pointers. Hukle went four-for-four from the free throw line and finished with 10 points, while Jack Marshall went five-for-six from the free throw line to finish with nine points.
Feb. 17 vs. Geneseo—The Knights buried Geneseo 52-22, behind Brock Harner’s 18 points. The Knights allowed 12 points in the first quarter, then clamped down on defense, allowing only seven, two and one points over the final three.Marshall had nine points, Hed had eight points and Hukle had six in the win. The Knights sit at 13-9 overall, 18-3 in Northern Illinois Big XII play.

Boys basketball gets Spartans to surrender

in Boys Basketball by
___Laura Gampfer KHS boys bball v. Sycamore 2-5-15-6
Junior Jacob Gomes put in a team-high 17 points against Sycamore Feb. 5.  Photo by Laura Gampfer
Junior Jacob Gomes put in a team-high 17 points against Sycamore Feb. 5.
Photo by Laura Gampfer

Knights beat Pirates Tuesday
KANELAND—The Kaneland boys basketball team scored a whopping 24 points in the fourth quarter to erase a 20-point third-quarter deficit and defeat the Sycamore Spartans 64-61 at home Feb. 5.

Tuesday saw the Knights win again at home, this time against the Ottawa Pirates, 53-51.

The wins give the Knights an overall record of 11-10 and 5-3 in the Northern Illinois Big XII Conference.

The Spartans got the upper hand early on in the first quarter. Sycamore put aggressive defense on Kaneland as the Knights struggled to find their shots. Sycamore went on a 7-2 run in the first 3-and-a-half minutes of the game as the Spartans dished crisp passes and found the open man driving to the basket. Three treys from guard Matt Coovert and guard/forward Timothy Zahm helped Sycamore to a 19-8 lead at the end of the quarter. The Knights’ eight points were scored by center Jacob Gomes (Kaneland game-high 17 points), forward Ryan David (five-of-five from the line with 16 points and three treys) and forward Mitchel Groen (three points).

Sycamore continued their offensive and defensive aggressiveness in the second quarter. Their uptempo play was further ignited by Maxx Miller’s nine points. Efforts by guard Jack Mizgalski (10 points with two three-pointers), as well as Ty Sulaver, Zahm and Brian Huber, gave the Spartans a commanding 13-point lead at halftime 35-22.

Junior Dylan Vaca puts up a layup against Sycamore Feb. 5.  Photo by Laura Gampfer
Junior Dylan Vaca puts up a layup against Sycamore Feb. 5.
Photo by Laura Gampfer

Even with the halftime deficit, the Knights showed signs of hustle in the form of guard Tanner Robertsen (two points). Robertsen was able to set up his teammates for scoring opportunities as Gomes scored six second-quarter points. David, Groen and guards Dylan Vaca (four points) and Jacob Marczuck (four points) also contributed eight of the team’s 14 points.

Sycamore kept command offensively to start the second half. The Spartans used good communication on the floor to go on an 8-1 run in the first 2:20 of the third quarter. Sulaver’s six, Migalski’s five (including a three-pointer) and forward/center James Mitchell’s two points helped build Sycamore’s lead to 20. However, the Knights began to chip away at the Spartan’s lead. Three-pointers by David and guard Mark Lilly (11 points) sparked the start of Kaneland’s comeback. Marczuk, Robertsen, Gomes and guard Connor Fedderly (seven points) helped cut the Spartans lead to nine (49-40) by the end of the quarter, outscoring them 18-14.

Senior Connor Fedderly had seven points against Sycamore Feb. 5. Photo by Laura Gampfer
Senior Connor Fedderly had seven points against Sycamore Feb. 5.
Photo by Laura Gampfer

Kaneland’s offense and defense finally erupted in the fourth. Fedderly, relatively quiet the first half, took his intensity to another level in the second, particularly in the fourth quarter. He hit three-of-five free throws and two points from the field as he made plays on both sides of the court with relentless aggression. David hit three-of-three free throws to pull Kaneland within six with 3:45 to go. Gomes split two at the line, and Fedderly added another as the Knights battled back to within two points with 2:05 left to play. Lilly continued his own intense play, as two of his six fourth-quarter points tied the game for Kaneland with 1:40 left.

Junior Mark Lilly had 11 points Feb. 5 against Sycamore. Photo by Laura Gampfer
Junior Mark Lilly had 11 points Feb. 5 against Sycamore.
Photo by Laura Gampfer

Sycamore, however, would not go quietly. Sulaver scored six points, Mizgalski and Treml two apiece, and Zahm hit one of two from the line as they helped the Spartans to a three-point lead in the final minute. Vaca would make two-of-three from the line to cut Sycamore’s lead to one with 47 seconds to play. 20 seconds later, Lilly finally gave the Knights the lead on a two-point field goal. David hit two-of-two free throws in the final seconds to ice the win. Kaneland’s 19 offensive rebounds were also a huge factor in the victory.

Kaneland head coach Brian Johnson offered his thoughts on his team’s comeback win after the game.

“I think (the comeback) really started with our pressure on defense. I thought Mark (Lilly) really ignited it by guarding the ball and making them (Sycamore) work, and we were in just kind of a ‘scramble mode.’ Connor (Fedderly) had some huge steals. (Jacob) Gomes was a beast in the paint; Ryan (David) was able to get free to make a couple shots, and Mark took some big shots down the stretch. We got lucky tonight. Sycamore came to play and had a lot of energy,” Johnson said.

Johnson also commented on Fedderly’s hustle on both sides of the court in the fourth quarter and being one of the keys to victory.

“Without a doubt. Connor’s a senior; been with us four years, practice-wise. He knows what it takes to win games. Seniors pull you through sometimes, and if you can get seniors to lead like he does, you’ll be OK. I just thought he didn’t quit at all,” Johnson said.

#55 Jacob Gomes and #20 Junior Dylan Vaca Photo by Laura Gampfer
#55 Jacob Gomes and #20 Junior Dylan Vaca
Photo by Laura Gampfer
Juniors Jacob Gomes and Ryan David smother a Sycamore player with defense Feb. 5. Photo by Laura Gampfer
Juniors Jacob Gomes and Ryan David smother a Sycamore player with defense Feb. 5.
Photo by Laura Gampfer

Lilly said halftime adjustments by Johnson helped the team turn around their effort.

“We played hard, and we just played our game. (We) played how we’re supposed to play. At halftime, coach (Johnson) gave us a little pep talk, and we didn’t want to lose on our home court again. We lost to Yorkville, so we didn’t want to lose again. We just played hard,” Lilly said. “(Getting the deficit down to nine in the third quarter) was huge. It was a huge confidence builder for us.”

In a back-and-forth affair against Ottawa Tuesday, the Knights got out to a 17-12 lead before getting outscored 18-6 in the second quarter to find themselves down 30-23 at halftime. A 20-11 third quarter put the Knights ahead for good, as the teams deadlocked at 10-10 during the fourth quarter. David led the Knights with19 points and Fedderly had 10. Vaca (nine points) and Gomes (five points) helped the Knight’s cause.

The boys varsity squad travels to Dekalb on Friday, then returning home to host Larkin in the Kaneland Shootout on Saturday.

Feb. 12 sports recap

in Boys Basketball/Girls Basketball by

Don’t see your results in the Elburn Herald? Have your coach fax them to (630) 365-2251 or email them to sports@elburnherald.com.

Girls Soph Basketball
Feb. 3 @ DeKalb—The Knights beat DeKalb 33-27 to win their seventh-straight game. Kristen Siebert led KHS with 14 points and eight rebounds. Carly Elliott had 10 points and six rebounds, and Jamie Martens had seven rebounds. The Knights are 15-7, 8-2 in NIB-12 play.

Girls Freshman Basketball
Feb. 3 @ DeKalb—Kaneland beat the Barbs 41-31. Faith Cowsert led the team with 13 points, and Shayna Hurston had 12. Taylor Parrott had eight points and Katrina Van Horn 4.
Feb. 6 @ Yorkville—Yorkville beat the Knights 31-22. Van Horn had nine points, Abigail Taylor had six and Hurston had five.
Feb. 9 @ NIB-12 Tournament—The Knights lost to Sterling at Sycamore High School 43-34. Hurston and Cierra Kuipers each supplied 10 points, while Taylor had seven, Van Horn had four and Ivory Diaz had three points. The Knights are 14-11 on the season.

Boys Soph Basketball
Feb. 5 vs. Sycamore—The Knights easily outdistanced the visiting Spartans 31-20 behind a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter. Brock Harner had 11 points and Jack Marshall and Jake Hed each had six.
Feb. 10 vs. Ottawa—Ottawa beat the Knights 47-44 Tuesday despite Garrett Hukle’s 17 points. Hed had seven points. The sophomore Knights are 10-8, 6-3 in NIB-12 play.

Kaneland Day and Knight of Basketball Feb. 14

in Boys Basketball by
• 12 p.m. Larkin vs. Kaneland
• 1:30 p.m. Hillcrest vs. St. Charles North
• 3 p.m. Champaign Centennial vs. North Chicago

• 4:30 p.m. Champaign Centennial vs. North Chicago
• 6 p.m. Hillcrest vs. St. Charles North
• 7:30 p.m. Larkin vs. Kaneland

KANELAND—The second-annual Day and Knight of Basketball, featuring six premier varsity and sophomore boys basketball programs—Kaneland, St. Charles North, Hillcrest, Larkin, North Chicago and Champaign Centennial—will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14.

In addition to the schedule below, the day will feature:
• Exhibition game by the eighth grade Kaneland Cager programs during halftime of the 6 p.m. game.
• Kaneland pep band during the 7:30 p.m. game
• Team cheers and spirit for all teams by the KHS Cheer and Pom squads
• Food and drink by Kaneland Sports Boosters
• Customizable event clothing
• 50/50 Progressive Raffle held throughout the entire day
• Prize Raffle held throughout the entire day
• Kaneland’s very own chuck-a-duck.

Further, the players will honor those who are battling cancer, including families, friends and survivors. Each Kaneland varsity player will wear a shooting shirt during warm-ups with a name written on the front of their shirt. The name is of a person who they will be playing for during the remainder of the year.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. Contact Brian Johnson at brian.johnson@kaneland.org for details.

Kaneland boys basketball wins big vs. Morris

in Boys Basketball by
___Laura Gampfer KHS boys varsity bball v. Morris 1-30-15-1

Photo: Junior Dylan Vaca had a strong game against visiting Morris, putting up 17 points and going a perfect six-for-six from the free throw line. Photo by Laura Gampfer

KANELAND—An offensive barrage led by forward Ryan David and guard Dylan Vaca propelled the Kaneland boys varsity basketball team to a 59-42 victory over the visiting Morris Redskins Friday.

The win improved the Knights’ record to 9-9 overall and 4-3 in the Northern Illinois Big XII Conference.

David (three-for-five from the line with three two-point field goals, four three-pointers and a Kaneland game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds) found his shot early, scoring eight of the team’s first 10 points. Guard Tanner Robertsen (five points) and forward Zach Douglas (eight points) chipped in two points apiece as Kaneland’s defense held Morris guard Evan Bjelland (team-high 17 points) to a three-point field goal, and guard Jake Walker (11 points) to a two-point field goal. The Knights led 12-5 at the end of the first quarter.

The Redskins fought back offensively in the second quarter. Bjelland shot three of his five three-pointers and Jake Walker hit another two-pointer as the two guards combined for all of Morris’ points. Knights guard Mark Lilly had two steals to go with his two points on the night, and David, Douglas and forward Mitchel Groen (four points) would round out the nine points scored by the Knights, establishing a 21-16 lead at halftime.

Despite Morris’ early defensive pressure, the Knights exploded with a 22-point attack in the third quarter. Vaca fired off nine points, including a three-pointer, and was also a perfect six-for-six at the free throw line in the second half. After a quiet second quarter, David provided his own offensive firepower as he scored nine points, including two of his four treys on the evening. Robertsen hit a two-point field goal and Douglas was two-for-two at the line. Morris scored eight points behind Jake Walker, forward Griffin Sobol (two points) and a pair of free throws from Bejelland.

Down 43-24, Morris turned up its offense in the fourth quarter. Another three-pointer by Bjelland and complementary treys from guards Austin Patterson (five points) and Cody Niewinski (three points) helped the Redskins outscore the Knights 18-16. However, Morris had no answer for the red-hot Vaca, who scored eight points in the quarter as he, David, Robertsen, Douglas and guard Kevin Fajaro (two-for-two at the line for two points) combined to seal the victory.

Knights head coach Brian Johnson offered his thoughts on the big win.

“We got Dylan (Vaca) going a little bit, which was nice. Ryan David was excellent all game. (He) probably had four or five blocks (and) did a good job on their point guard in the second half. I give a lot of credit to Tanner Robertsen and Mitchel Groen. It was definitely a team effort. Probably the unsung hero would be Zach Douglas. (He) kept hitting the boards and made some nice shots. By far the best game of his high school career.”

Johnson had plenty to say about David, as well.

“As of late, he’s been playing (aggressively). But tonight he was going to attack and shoot from the inside and the outside. He’s playing with a ton of confidence. He’s really blossomed into a nice player.”

Johnson was also happy with Vaca’s play in the second half.

“He was more aggressive on the defensive end. He stayed confident (and) got some good looks. I thought that three-point shot (in the third quarter) was huge. When he’s going well and Ryan’s going well, we feel pretty good about our play.”

The Knights host Sycamore at home Thursday before traveling to O’Fallon Township High School for the O’Fallon Shootout on Saturday.

Feb. 5 sports recap

in Bowling/Boys Basketball/Girls Basketball by

Don’t see your results in the Elburn Herald? Have your coach fax them to (630) 365-2251 or email them to sports@elburnherald.com.

Soph Boys Basketball
Jan. 29 vs. Morris—The Knights won 40-39 over the visiting Redskins. Jack Marshall led the team with 12 points, while Jake Hed was right behind with 11. Brock Harner, Dan Franck and Garrett Hukle each had four points.

Soph Girls Basketball
Jan. 27 vs. Sycamore—The Knights had Sycamore nipping at their heels all game, but kept them at bay, winning 32-25. Kristen Siebert led the team with 10 points, while Sydney Davison and Carley Elliott each had seven. Jamie Martens had five points and nine rebounds.
Jan. 29 vs. Morris—KHS burst out to a 10-0 lead before Morris closed to within four points. A strong second half helped the Knights win 36-24. Siebert again led the team with 15 points, while Davidson supplied seven. Addie Ringel had six points and six rebounds.

Girls JV Bowling
Feb. 3 @ Ottawa—The Pirates defeated KHS 1,855-1,748 Tuesday. Amber Spaetzel led the squad with a 378 series (159 high game), while Natalie Barnhart was next with a 351 series (137 high game). Marissa Michi supplied a 315 (119 high game).

Building a Bronco legacy

in Boys Basketball/Boys Track/Football/Kaneland/Sugar Grove by

Sugar Grove native Fleck earns MAC Coach of the Year honors, contract
extension in 2nd year with Western Michigan University

KALAMAZOO, MICH.—After leading the biggest turnaround in Mid-American Conference (MAC) history, it’s no surprise that P.J. Fleck was recently signed to a six-year contract extension as Western Michigan’s head football coach, and named 2014 MAC Coach of the Year,

Fleck, a Sugar Grove native and 1999 Kaneland High School alum, was hired as the Bronco’s head coach in 2013 when he was just 32 years old, making him the youngest head coach in Division I FBS history and also one of only two college football coaches to have played and coached in the NFL. Fleck played for the San Francisco 49ers during the 2004 and 2005 seasons before an injury forced him to move from playing to coaching. He worked as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.


“I think Kaneland taught me to believe in myself. I was a freshman starting on the varsity basketball team, and you talk about people not liking you. Well, it taught me to believe in myself and that I truly belong, and that’s what Joe Thorgeson (the head football coach) did for me, and Ken Neahring, our track coach. Because as confident as people thought I should have been in high school, I wasn’t.”P.J. Fleck

Under Fleck’s leadership, the Western Michigan Broncos last season staged a dramatic turnaround from their 1-11 record in 2013, Fleck’s first year as coach. Fleck faced widespread criticism from fans following his first season with the Broncos, something WMU Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard said was expected.

“I totally knew our first year we were going to have some issues with a coaching change and a culture change,” she said. “We only won one game. But that next year, we put together a recruiting class that was the best in the MAC, and the recruits were absolutely committed to P.J.’s philosophy. We were able to put together a year where we had the biggest turnaround in college football history.”

The Broncos went 8-4 this season—their best campaign since 2008—and played in their first bowl game since 2011. WMU lost the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to the Air Force Academy Falcons 38-24 on Dec. 20, but the Broncos’ seven-game improvement in 2014 was the biggest one-year turnaround in MAC history.

Fleck attributed the bowl loss to having a young team—most of the players, which he has recruited himself, are freshmen and sophomores—that lacks the experience and depth of other teams.

“We’re one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country, and we’re playing (an Air Force) team that’s mostly juniors and seniors, and they’re very well-coached,” he said.

For Fleck, though, the most important thing is not whether the Broncos won or lost—it’s about where they are headed.

“I have people ask me, ‘Oh, you’re 8-4. Did you exceed your own expectation of the program? Is the program way ahead of schedule from where you thought?’ I use the same answer I used last year. I knew where the program was developing,” Fleck said. “You saw 1-11, but the program was developing from within with a 12-0 type feel. You might have seen 1-11, but the program was really 12-0 inside.

“And it’s the same thing this year. We’re 8-4, and when you look at where our program’s headed, it’s exactly where I thought it would be. Wins and losses, that doesn’t really matter in terms of when you’re building a program from the ground up. It’s about where you’re headed, and for me, I think we’re on track.”

He’ll get that chance to continue building a program from the ground up. In addition to being named the 2014 MAC Coach of the Year. WMU on Dec. 18 extended Fleck’s contract through the 2020 season. Under the terms of his contract, he’ll make a base salary of $225,000 per year, plus other guaranteed compensation that raise his total compensation to over $800,000 per year.
Success-based bonuses and incentives could push his total income even higher.

Beauregard, who made the decision to extend Fleck’s contract, said the team wanted to lock him into a long-term contract because they knew he would be sought after. She also wanted new recruits to know that they’d have Fleck as their coach for their entire college football career.


“As a head coach, you get scrutinized; you get evaluated every day, whether through the media’s eyes, your community’s eyes, your players’ eyes. And the only profession you can compare that to, the everyday scrutiny, is a singer or an actor. There’s so few opportunities to be normal, and everybody thinks they own a part of you. That’s made me a better man, because my skin is so much thicker than it’s ever been. Every day, I’m learning about myself.”P.J. Fleck

According to Beauregard, when she originally hired Fleck two years ago, she specifically chose him to engineer a program turnaround. She hoped Fleck, who had worked as an assistant coach under Joe Novak at Northern Illinois and under Greg Schiano with Rutgers University and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—both of whom had reputations as program builders—would be able to bring a winning record to the Broncos and transform the program’s culture.

“We made a coaching change, and we were looking for something different than what we had had,” Beauregard said.

Fleck’s experience as both a player and assistant coach at NIU, a fellow MAC school that has offered strong competition to WMU, is part of what interested the Broncos in Fleck, Beauregard said. But beyond that, the program was seeking someone who could bring a positive approach to coaching—something that Fleck has been so successful in creating, she said, that it was a major reason for extending his contract.

The change that Western Michigan sought included far more than just the team’s record. The school wanted to increase attendance at its football games, which had dwindled, and build a larger fan base. It was a long-term mission at the outset.

“Obviously, when you change a culture, it takes time,” Fleck said. “This wasn’t a football program turnaround (or) a win-loss turnaround, it was a true culture turnaround. It was the culture of the community, the administration, the alumni, the boosters who had never even been a part of Western Michigan before. So you talk culture, it’s everything—it’s a complete mindset and belief system.”

That total culture change Fleck has been working to instill at Western Michigan is symbolized by the “Row the Boat” mantra he’s brought to the Broncos—a metaphor from another sport altogether.

In rowing, Fleck noted, everyone on the team has to row together. Rowers face backward and can’t see where they’re going; they have to have faith that if they just keep rowing together in the same direction, they will reach their destination. It’s not just a mantra for the players, Fleck said, but for everyone in the Bronco community, from the administration to the students to the fans in the wider community.

“If we can get everybody rowing at the same tempo, same speed, same efficiency, same power, in the same direction, we’ll get from point A to point B quickly,” Fleck told fans when he introduced the mantra two years ago. “That’s the goal of this program: win a MAC championship, and win it now. Part of rowing the boat is changing a culture.”

He’s encouraged Broncos fans and community members to hang oars on their walls and in their businesses to show support for the team and to generate the kind of positive energy he wants to see surround the team, and he gives oars away to as many visitors as he can. He’s also brought in a new DJ to play music at home games to up the energy level of the crowd.

But the biggest piece of a culture change is recruiting, Fleck said, which he’s doing differently than most fellow Division I schools. Fleck tries to recruit new players almost exclusively from within a six-hour radius of Kalamazoo, Mich., an idea he picked up from Joe Novak, the Northern Illinois head coach he once played for.

“(Novak’s) belief system is that you’ve got to get mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, the guys at the local coffee shop engaged. They’re now following that team because they know someone on it,” Fleck said. “You have players who all have the same ethic because they’re all from the same area, and family and friends can come to see every game. That’s great support for the players, and your attendance goes up. We want to keep it local and recruit local talent.”

Beyond that, though, Fleck said that he cares as much about a potential player’s character as he does about his football prowess. The characteristics he’s looking for in his new recruits are more about the athlete’s heart than about football.

“We talk about three characteristics in our football program,” Fleck said. “That is a nekton mentality—always attacking, never full, like a Great White shark. I want to know, is he attacking life? Is he growing on a daily basis? Is he charismatic? Then we talk about a Prefontaine pace. (Steve) Prefontaine was the greatest distance runner of all time, and he could go the distance.
“The last part is our farmer’s alliance. We want players who have a very unselfish mentality. We want to know their friends; we want to interview their friends. That’s where we start, and we go from there. There have been plenty of big-time players who we’ve stopped pursuing.”

The character-based approach appears to be working. The Broncos in 2014 had the highest-ranked recruiting class in MAC history. Freshman running back Jarvion Franklin was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, and 10 Broncos were named to Phil Steele’s 2014 Postseason All-MAC team. Franklin, the top running back in the MAC this season, led the conference with 25 total touchdowns—24 of which were on the ground.

The focus on what Fleck dubs “heartwork” isn’t just limited to the players. Fleck wants to have total commitment from everyone associated with the Broncos, including the fans—something he’s encapsulated in his “Row the Bow” mantra, Beauregard said.

“There’s no doubt that when he first came, there was a lot of skepticism and criticism about ‘What the heck does rowing the boat have to do with Western Michigan football?’” Beauregard said. “But it’s about total belief; it’s about everybody being on the same page of wanting the best for our student athletes. Culturally, it’s been something our students have absolutely loved, and we’ve had more interest in it every day.”

Beauregard said that Fleck’s own experience with tragedy—he and his wife, Tracie, lost a son, Colt, to a heart condition in infancy—has spoken to many of the student-athletes, some of whom have experienced their own life struggles.

“One thing that’s exciting is that it’s not just about football,” Beauregard said. “It’s about keeping going in our lives; it’s a belief that things are going to turn around for you; it’s a commitment that everybody is making 100 percent effort. So they buy into it, knowing that there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel if you just keep rowing.”

It’s a philosophy Beauregard describes as “contagious,” noting that Fleck has led the Broncos players to do a lot of community service and also to have the second-highest GPA in team history. The team’s 2.91 GPA won it the MAC Sports GPA Trophy for a fourth consecutive year. Also, the team’s GPA has increased significantly from a 2.4 average in 2013 to the 2.91 average this season.

Fleck attributes his coaching philosophy today to the many people that influenced him throughout his athletic and coaching career, believing he’s learned something from every place he’s been, starting with Kaneland High School.

“I think Kaneland taught me to believe in myself,” Fleck said. “I was a freshman starting on the varsity basketball team, and you talk about people not liking you. Well, it taught me to believe in myself and that I truly belong, and that’s what Joe Thorgeson (the head football coach) did for me, and Ken Neahring, our track coach. Because as confident as people thought I should have been in high school, I wasn’t.”

Kaneland High School inducted him into its Hall of Fame in June, recognizing Fleck’s career achievements, as well as his leading the 1997 and 1998 Knights to back-to-back State championships. An All-State wide receiver, he set school records his senior year with 95 catches and 199 career receptions, then went on to play for Northern Illinois, where he still holds the school record for punt returns (87).

From Novak, the NIU head coach who offered Fleck a scholarship when no other Division I team was interested, Fleck learned the importance of taking a chance and giving people opportunities, he said.

From Mike Nolan, former San Francisco 49ers head coach, Fleck said he learned “how to be a class act”; from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who gave Fleck his first coaching opportunity, he learned “how to teach young men life”; from Jerry Kill, Novak’s successor as NIU head coach, who offered Fleck an assistant coaching position, he learned how to care for the players.

“And then I went to work for Greg Schiano, and he’s probably one of the hardest people to work for in the country,” Fleck said.

Schiano, who hired Fleck as an assistant coach at Rutgers University, brought him along to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Some of my hardest personal battles I faced (were) when I was working for him,” Fleck said, alluding to the 2010 loss of his newborn son. “He taught me how to push myself, how to never sacrifice what you really want.”

These are lessons Fleck intends to carry forward as he strives to make Western Michigan a nationally recognized program, and as he adjusts to being in a constant spotlight, something he never experienced in the relative anonymity of his previous assistant coaching positions.

“As a head coach, you get scrutinized; you get evaluated every day, whether through the media’s eyes, your community’s eyes, your players’ eyes. And the only profession you can compare that to, the everyday scrutiny, is a singer or an actor. There’s so few opportunities to be normal, and everybody thinks they own a part of you,” Fleck said. “That’s made me a better man, because my skin is so much thicker than it’s ever been. Every day, I’m learning about myself.”

Editors note: P.J. Fleck graduated from Kaneland High School in 1999, not 1998 which was mentioned in the original edition of this story. The Herald regrets the error.

Kaneland boys basketball survives scare at Rochelle

in Boys Basketball by
Junior Dylan Vaca goes up for two points in the third quarter at Rochelle Saturday.
Photo by Mary Paulson
Junior Dylan Vaca goes up for two points in the third quarter at Rochelle Saturday. Photo by Mary Paulson
Junior Dylan Vaca goes up for two points in the third quarter at Rochelle Saturday.
Photo by Mary Paulson
ROCHELLE, ILL.—Kaneland Knights boys basketball on Saturday survived a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Rochelle Hubs to secure a hard-fought 66-61 win on the road.

The victory improved the Knights’ record to 8-9 overall and 3-3 in the Northern Illinois Big XII Conference.

Rochelle got into foul trouble early as the Knights opened an 11-4 run in the first 6:20 of the game. Kaneland guard Connor Fedderly (nine points) and Rochelle guard Aaron Mehrings (team-high 18 points) traded shots in the final seconds of the frame, and the Knights led 16-11 after one quarter of play.

Both teams got into foul trouble, with 10 apiece by the end of the second quarter. Rochelle tightened up their defense and pulled to within eight points at halftime with key free throws made by Mehrings, forward Matt Albers (nine points overall) and guard James Porter (two points). The Knights managed to maintain their 34-26 advantage thanks to free throws made by guard Dylan Vaca (eight points) and back-to-back three-pointers by Fedderly at the end of the quarter. Fedderly was three-of-three from three-point range on the night.

Both Kaneland and Rochelle kicked up the intensity in the second half. The Hubs scored four three-pointers, courtesy of Mehrings, guard Landon Griffith (three points) forward Justin Harms (three points) and forward Tim Monfils (three points). The Knights battled back through the continued efforts of Vaca, as well as key shots by forward Mitchel Groen (eight points), forward Ryan David (team-high 18 points) and two three-pointers from forward Steven Limbrunner, who finished with nine points.

The fourth quarter was a fast-paced affair from beginning to end. Kaneland turnovers ate away at its six-point lead, as Rochelle took the lead 58-57 on a shot from guard Colfay Pointer (three points) with 4:15 left in the game. The lead would be traded back and fourth until Kaneland forced a key turnover with 14.2 seconds to play. Forward Tanner Robertsen (six points) hit both free throws to seal the win for the Knights.

“When you play Rochelle, you have to be ready to play fast. Usually that’s the type of game they like to play,” he said. “I thought we did a decent job of enabling pressure, but I found that we turned the ball over a little to much, to be honest. (We) got (into) a lot of foul trouble. In the first half, we need to be a little more sound around the rim and finish. I thought we rushed.

“In the second half, we seemed to be in foul trouble. Down the stretch, I was really happy with our plan. I thought guys made some big plays. (Mitchel) Groen had a huge charge. (Guard Mark) Lilly had a big steal. Tanner made free throws down the stretch. It was nice to seal the deal on the road.”

Coach Johnson offered continued praise for David, as well as Fedderly, for their performances.

“Ryan is kind of a do-it-all guy. He usually plays against the (opposing) team’s best player,” Johnson said. “We needed to post him up tonight, and he was more than willing to do that. I was happy that he stayed focused, even though he had to sit on the bench for awhile (due to foul trouble). He really kept fighting.

“Connor opened things up. (He) kept us alive in the first half (and) made some really big shots. He’s a senior; three-year varsity player, so we expect that from him.”

The Kaneland Knights host Morris at 7 p.m. Friday.

Jan. 29 sports recap

in Bowling/Boys Basketball/Girls Basketball by

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Boys Basketball

Jan. 10 @ LaSalle-Peru—The sophomore Knights lost 47-36 to LaSalle-Peru. Jake Hed and Garrett Hukle each had nine points, while Josh Pollastrini had six.
Jan. 16 vs. Yorkville—The visiting Foxes won 36-28. Jack Marshall, Hed and Hukle each supplied five points.
Jan. 24 @ Rochelle—The Knights earned a 70-67 overtime win at Rochelle. Brock Harner had 23 points (three treys, and four-of-six from the free throw line) and Hukle had 20 (eight-of-12 free throws). Hed went five-of-seven from the free throw line on his way to 11 points.

Girls Basketball

Jan. 20 vs. Geneseo—The sophomore Knights held off Geneseo 27-26, avenging an earlier-season loss to the Leafs. A 14-7 second quarter propelled KHS, which was led by Kristen Siebert’s 15 points and Addie Ringel’s eight.
Jan. 22 @ IMSA—Kaneland easily dispatched IMSA 28-7. Sydney Davidson led all scorers with nine points. Ringel supplied eight rebounds.
Jan. 24 @ Rochelle—Down 17-8 entering the fourth quarter, the Knights used a 16-2 fourth quarter run to win at Rochelle 24-19. Siebert and Jenna Harvell helped the cause by shooting 11-for-16 from the free throw line to secure the win.
Date vs/@ opponent—recap

Girls Basketball

Jan. 21 vs. Plano—The Knights used a 18-7 run in the second quarter to outpace the visitng Lady Reapers, winning 48-30. Faith Cowsert led the team with 14 points, and Katrina Van Horn had 13. Shayna Hurston had eight points, while Ivory Diaz and Logan Guerra each had four.
Jan. 24 @ Rochelle—The freshman girls won a close one at Rochelle, 35-32. Abigail Taylor led the way with 14 points, while Van Horn had nine and Hurston had seven.

JV Bowling

Jan. 22 vs. Lisle—The JV squad lost to visiting Lisle 2,197-1,727. Marissa Michi led the team with a 341 series (133 high game), and Natalie Barnhart was close behind with a 335 series (126 high game).

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