It wasn’t as much what they won as who they won it with.
That’s not to detract from the AAU Division II national championship that was earned Tuesday in Orlando, Fla.
But for Jake Ludwig and Jack Callaghan – St. Charles North basketball juniors – it was the longstanding history with several teammates, dating back to their St. Charles Storm days, that made their Illinois Flyers AAU triumph all the more meaningful.
“It was awesome because normally guys can’t say they’ve played with one teammate for six seasons, and I’ve been able to do it with five other guys and the same coaching,” Callaghan said. “It was a great feeling, holding that trophy with them.”
The Flyers, coached by St. Charles resident Kevin Conrad, have six St. Charles players on their team – Callaghan and Ludwig are starters, while St. Charles North’s Brendan McCarthy, St. Charles East’s Jeremy Champine and Mick Vyzral and Benet’s Jeff Conrad are among the team’s other contributors.
That core’s basketball relationship pre-dates middle school, mostly with the Storm before re-organizing into the Illinois Flyers once they hit high school, allowing them to expand the squad’s talent pool, including adding a helpful duo from Stevenson High School.
The AAU nationals took place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, beginning July 10 and ending Tuesday, when the Flyers rallied from a seven-point deficit to beat the Arkansas Warriors, 39-36, in the championship game.
The Warriors had defeated the Flyers at the tournament the year before.
“In my mind, I was thinking win or bust but I think most of the guys on the team would have been satisfied with an Elite Eight finish,” Callaghan said. “I think most of the guys on the team were pleasantly surprised, but I think me and Jake were expecting to win the whole time.”
During eight games at the tournament, the Flyers allowed an average of less than 33 points a game.
“We always based ourselves on defense and that’s kind of what we did growing up,” Ludwig said. “We weren’t really the biggest team, didn’t really have the biggest players. Going into the Flyers, we basically based ourselves on defense because defense wins championships, and that’s what we did.”
Ludwig, a combo guard, and Callaghan, a 6-3 forward – along with shooting guard Alec Goetz – are the most experienced returnees next season for North, which lost starters Quinten Payne, Tony Neari, Justin Stanko and Kyle Swanson to graduation from last year’s 18-11 team.
Experience gained in Orlando and from other offseason endeavors figure to groom Ludwig and Callaghan for much larger roles as juniors.
“We definitely lost a lot but I think that it’s motivating us underclassmen, especially me, Alec, Jack,” Ludwig said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some football guys out for some size, but it’s definitely motivating us to work harder this offseason.”
Callaghan said he plans to return to North’s football program this fall after taking a year off, citing his enthusiasm for North’s new coaching staff. He expects to be in the mix at outside linebacker.
Eclipse excitement: Eclipse Select’s 15U girls soccer team won a national title of its own Monday, seizing the Elite Clubs National League crown, 2-0, over Real Colorado in Henrico, Va.
Marissa Bosco, of St. Charles, scored the match’s first goal, while goalkeeper Stephanie Rodriguez, of Batavia, “came up with several clutch saves throughout the match,” according to a news release from the team.
Geneva’s Foster Ignoffo scored for Eclipse in Sunday’s 5-1 win against the FC Bucks.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.