BURLINGTON – Standard four-syllable chants announce to anyone within earshot just how new Samantha Cruz, Becca Gerke, Shelby Holt, Samantha Pryor and Kayla Ross are to Burlington Central girls basketball.
While schoolmates and teachers don’t break stride in the hallway to bark, “SHE’S A FRESH-MAN,” they frequently share related thoughts.
“I think we all knew we were capable of playing like this, so it’s kind of cool to hear it,” Holt said. “It’s still cool to hear it. It doesn’t really get old.”
Why should it when BC’s kiddie corps has helped steer the team to a 22-4 start, including a 12-0 run to the Big Northern East title? With the rest of Central’s roster featuring five sophomores, one junior and two seniors, tonight’s regular season finale against St. Charles North won’t be this group’s last hurrah on Rocket Hill, even with a home 3A regional looming.
Central enters the game one victory shy of setting the program’s single-season school record, BC coach Mark Smith said. Smith, in his first season with the team, anticipated a possible breakthrough during preseason but has found the group’s quick emergence to be a pleasant surprise.
Senior guard Camille Dela Cruz, one of just four Rockets with a driver’s licenses, hadn’t met the new girls until tryouts, and occasionally takes a few freshmen home from practice.
Dela Cruz need only consult her rear view when she’s on the road. She hasn’t had to worry much about her new teammates on the court so far.
“They play with confidence. They don’t play scared. They don’t play like freshmen,” said Dela Cruz, a third-year varsity player. “They know what they’re capable of doing and everything, so that’s how they play.”
BC’s five freshmen have harnessed their symmetry as members of the Illinois Hoop Dreams AAU team along with sophomore Jackie Collins, whose father, Paul, founded the program in 2010.
Holt credits the regimented schedule and tough competition for preparing the newest Rockets, who “held our own,” in Holt’s words, even during summer showcases in which they played up an age group.
Central’s leading scorer at around 12 points per game – just ahead of Pryor and Ross, who are hovering near double digits – Holt and her classmates adjusted to Smith’s energetic, adaptable style from the start of practice.
“In the summer, we were so excited because we were like, ‘Oh, well now we all get to come here,’ “ said Holt, a forward. “It worked out really cool, because we all play in the summer and then here, too.”
Sophomore post Alison Colby, a 6-footer like Gerke, heard the freshman chants last season as a top varsity player.
With the first leg of what the Rockets hope is a lengthy postseason run on their own court, Colby wouldn’t mind hearing more cheers for the new frosh. Fanfare is fine, so long as Central doesn’t get complacent.
“With us being a young team, we have to expect tough teams going into it,” Colby said. “We can’t be too confident, but we can’t be too shy, either. We’ve got to come out with our best, right from the beginning.”
Smith has yet to see effort as an issue. He doesn’t expect to in the seasons to come.
“Any one of those girls that wants to play in college, you’ve got to work on it on your own. You’ve got to have a passion for the game,” Smith said. “I think that most of them do, and we’ll see where they end up. They should be OK.”