GENEVA – St. Charles North is liable to tune-up its huddle-breaking chant before the boys basketball season opens in November.
For now, the North Stars go with "Team!" largely because it suits them.
For a program that graduated much of its core, the selfless stuff of intangibles sure sprouted in the North Stars during an 11-1 run through the Geneva Summer League, including a berth in the semifinals of Wednesday's session-ending tournament.
"Sometimes, that's a hurdle you don't clear until midseason, or not at all with some teams," North coach Tom Poulin said. "This group is already playing as a team. They just want to win. They don't care who scores and who's out there. When they get out there and get their minutes, they play hard. They're fun to coach."
Although he began with reserved tones fit for a stinging conference loss, Poulin eventually conceded as much about his team's league finale, a 50-48 overtime loss to host Geneva in a semifinal.
The eventual runner-up Vikings also squeezed through a tight game against champion Larkin in the final, losing 54-51. Larkin's quickness and ability to open up its perimeter shooters made the difference.
"We need to find out a way to lessen their wide-open 3s or just face them out," Geneva junior forward Nate Navigato said. "They're kind of quick. We've got to figure out a way to stop them."
The Vikings will get their chance in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play in another few months.
Much of the drama resided in Geneva's Mack Olson gym, including the final, which saw Larkin cap the league season at 13-0. In the Geneva-North semi, the Vikings' Chris Parrilli tallied a layup in the closing seconds of overtime for the final margin.
That came after North slowed the pace and relied on defense and free-throws – three from Erik Miller and a pair from Jake Ludwig – to force an extra session in the final two minutes. The Vikings appreciated the chance to play in close games and anticipate more when the score isn't beholden to a running clock.
"All the teams are always tight. It's always so fun because they're always so competitive," Navigato said. "It's always good games and down to the wire. Whoever works harder is the team that usually comes out on top."
For many among the 20-team field, the tournament brought a conclusion to a summer season in which "casual" was often a buzzword. Fans and coaches' cries of "Three seconds!" or "That's a foul!" notwithstanding.
It started with the dress code:
• Coaches were clad in polos or T-shirts and shorts instead of suits to combat the comfortably hazy contest and Mack Olson gyms.
• Players on the same team sported different-colored pennies or jerseys. If you didn't know North wore black and blue, it was clear when it played as the visiting team Wednesday.
Ultimately, these two fashion statements helped reflect coaches' penchants for generous substitutions and a free-flowing allotment of summer minutes. No, this league didn't double as a week of November tryouts, but it did provide valuable data on which combinations might look most comfortable in which sets come the winter.
"I tell you what, it's a very good league and very, very competitive," St. Francis coach Bob Ward said this week. "We've been fortunate, I think, to play pretty well against some pretty good competition. We've had an opportunity to play in some close games. You're just starting to do some game situation stuff and look to work on things like that."
That went double for St. Charles East, which has navigated an injury-plagued summer that's kept key players out for extended stretches.
The list includes Dom Adduci (shoulder surgery), David Mason (broken nose), Cole Gentry and Jake Asquini (stress fractures in back) and James McQuillan (stress fracture in leg).
East's quarterfinal against North – a 54-49 loss – marked just the third game back for senior forward A.J. Washington, who has been fighting loose knee cartilage and a muscle injury for which he's still receiving therapy.
"I'm actually really happy the way we played in there considering the top six guys were out," Saints coach Pat Woods said. "And overall, I think these young guys are benefiting from the older guys being out because they get a lot of playing time and experience.
"I think a couple of them have really stepped to the forefront where they can come in and contribute next year, which will be good for us."
There's some size among the group that caught Woods' eye, namely juniors Jack Bronec (6-foot-8) and Mick Vyzral (6-4).