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Batavia girls basketball grateful for volunteer players

Batavia coach Kevin Jensen talks to his team during a game last month. The Bulldogs are 18-10 going into the Class 4A postseason.
Batavia coach Kevin Jensen talks to his team during a game last month. The Bulldogs are 18-10 going into the Class 4A postseason.

BATAVIA – Sometimes before world history class, John Barnes tells Erin Bayram he’s going to block one of her shots later that day.

Sometimes Barnes gets the chance. Sometimes he doesn’t.

Sometimes, he and the rest of the boys club at Batavia girls basketball practices simply serve as passers or pressers or go-betweens.

Since the start of the season, Barnes and seven fellow juniors have filled in as needed, scrimmaging, drilling and playfully trash-talking with a roster of eight Batavia girls. His squad’s limited depth prompted Bulldogs coach Kevin Jensen to enlist the help of former players from his time in the boys program. Their presence has balanced the equation while boosting the Bulldogs’ toughness entering next week’s Class 4A St. Charles East Regional.

“People walk by our practices and they’re like, ‘What?’ And they get really confused,” said Bayram, a 6-foot-2 center. “They don’t know if it’s a boy practice or a girl practice, and then they realize that they’re practicing with us to help us.”

Bayram and junior point guard Liza Fruendt know the boys more than most because they are classmates. All eight are listed as team managers on Batavia’s Athletics 2000 website.

Barnes, Luke Daniels, Mitch Davis and Dean Simoncelli attend most regularly, with Scott Banker, Alec Berry, Ethan Compton and Noah Cotten also figuring into the rotation. Many have been part of the student section for the 18-10 Bulldogs, even on the road.

Their services usually are needed for 30 minutes of a two-hour practice, and the scheduling is flexible. Earlier this week, as Jensen convened the girls for a post-practice huddle, the three boys in attendance casually hoisted jumpers at the other end of the floor, talking about mutual times that worked for them in the coming days. Some are involved in sports in other seasons.

“We always talked about Jensen, about us getting together to play again,” Barnes said. “I guess he thought of the idea to come and help out his girls team, and we were all up for it and thought it was a good idea. And I think we do seem to help them a lot.”

Before thinking there are any battle-of-the-sexes tiffs, don’t.

Jensen’s primary motivation in asking the favor stemmed from a special rapport with his 2010-11 freshman boys basketball team, his final boys team before taking the reins of the varsity girls program the following season. Jensen also coached a few of the boys in freshman football.

“I’ve gotten a pretty good relationship with them, so I was able to say, ‘Look, do you want to do this?’ without it seeming like it was something goofy,” Jensen said. “They knew I was being serious, and they’ve been exceptionally mature about it, and I think the girls have, too.”

The girls also have been grateful – and humble. They aren’t ashamed to admit the contrast between boys’ and girls’ physicality and styles of play.

“Rebounding against a boy is so different than rebounding against a girl,” said Fruendt, the team’s leading scorer at around 20 points a game.

Added Bayram: “No girls play like they do, so when we go out into the game, we’re prepared to play girls that are aggressive.”

Barnes, who joked with Jensen about getting a state championship ring should the Bulldogs have a breakthrough in them, spoke realistically about a possible return next season.

Batavia listed 11 players on its preseason sophomore roster and 18 on the freshman team, which figures to help ease the graduation of senior guards Grace Andrews, Mirandi Grizaffi, Sami Villarreal and Jenny Welday.

Jensen occasionally has promoted younger players during the final weeks of the regular season to keep starters fresh, but was unsure about any call-ups for Tuesday’s regional semifinal, which likely will be against host St. Charles East.

“I feel pretty confident about the eight,” he said. “Even though it’s eight, the eight we’ve got, we’ve played pretty well as of late.”

He meant his team, but Barnes and co. also could fit the bill. For now, there’s one honored ringer behind every Batavia girls basketball player.

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