BATAVIA – Liza Fruendt emerged from the Batavia locker room after the Bulldogs’ season-ending regional loss to St. Charles East last month, emotional over a journey she didn’t want to stop.
The Bulldogs’ path detoured to midcourt a few minutes later, but Batavia’s impromptu team pileup wasn’t the last time players would be together.
The next afternoon, coach Kevin Jensen caved to the Bulldogs’ wishes and held a workout that blended shootaround and practice. At the heart was Fruendt, the Kane County Chronicle Girls Basketball Player of the Year who immediately turned her focus toward improving her game for next fall.
“It’s good to take time off, but then you get to the point where you’re just like ‘Oooh, I want to keep going,’ ” Fruendt said. “I think a lot of teams go through the same thing, though. You are so used to doing the same thing for four months, so you don’t want to separate from each other.”
A junior point guard, Fruendt gladly welcomed her other seven teammates to any gathering on or away from the court, and even volunteered to address the entire program at this week’s year-end banquet.
While the Upstate Eight Conference River Division MVP led Batavia in per-game averages in points (19.7), assists (2.9) and steals (1.6), she proved equally impressive in the comportment category.
“She would always have an input on things,” freshman guard Bethany Orman said. “She always has a good thing to say about everyone. She’s a good leader of the team.”
Fruendt doesn’t deny having always been chatty, saying, “You can’t be a point guard and be quiet. There’s no way.”
Still, she discovered a greater urgency in herself during huddles, practices and in the locker room this season.
It was a far different atmosphere than in her freshman and sophomore seasons, and not just because of the Bulldogs’ small-but-tight-knit roster, which routinely drilled or scrimmaged against a handful of boys.
“Now, being an upperclassman, being a captain, I think it’s just become stepping into a role that’s been presented to me,” Fruendt said. “That’s just kind of how it is now.”
Fruendt welcomes the added attention, be it from teammates, fans, coaches or opposing defenders.
She didn’t earn a nod as Illinois Basketball Coaches Association 3rd team all-state by slinking away from pressure situations. Many times, she surpassed them.
In January, Fruendt entered a home game against Larkin six points shy of 1,000 for her career. She achieved the milestone in the first quarter en route to a game-high 25 points.
An effective outside shooter, Fruendt aspires to add muscle and grow stronger at attacking the rim during the offseason. That isn’t to say she lacked scoring versatility in breakout offensive games, including when she scored a career-high-matching 32 points in separate Oswego and Montini tournament victories in December.
“The growth of her game and the growth of how she’s continued to push herself and push her teammates, it’s just been impressive,” Jensen said.
“She’s been back at it already, working out with a trainer, getting ready for her AAU stuff, making a point now about addressing some of the things we want her to get better to take her to the next level.”
Along with Jensen and a handful of fellow Bulldogs, Fruendt watched a scattering of AAU Illinois Lady Lightning teammates during the 3A and 4A state tournament in Normal this past weekend.
The Bulldogs climbed from 13 to 18 victories in their second season under Jensen, and the trip downstate offered a glimpse at the next item on players’ radars.
“That’s definitely motivation. You see them. Whether they’re winning or losing, it’s a big accomplishment to get to state,” Fruendt said. “It’s so much motivation. We looked at each other and were like, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ “
But first thing’s first. It’s still March.
No one’s using the Batavia gym, are they?