Claire Jakaitis’ first season with the St. Charles North girls basketball team only started two weeks ago, and yet she can’t keep from beaming about endings.
Along with the optimism that comes with joining an experienced North core and wondering what might be this winter, the junior transfer from Montini loves what happens when practice is over.
“It’s nice. I get to be home with my family all the time,” Jakaitis said. “Before, I was home at 6 [p.m.], and on the weekends I would be like, ‘Oh, what happened this week, guys?’ because I was never home. So now I’m in the loop all the time.”
A 6-foot-2 post who played alongside a few North Stars as she grew up in District 303 schools, Jakaitis personifies all transfers’ quest for comfort. Sometimes, it’s found in one move. Sometimes, it’s two or more (remember the brothers Cully and Quinten Payne?). In every case, being at ease with your new teammates and surroundings is the goal.
Jakaitis’ background quickened the transition, to be sure.
North Stars coach Sean Masoncup was one of her Haines Middle School physical education teachers. Junior Morgan Rosencrants played alongside Jakaitis in middle school, then in the early stages of AAU ball.
In cases like this, even the incumbents can experience a full-circle feeling that usually is reserved for transfers.
“It’s been a big difference, the steps that we’ve taken and how much our own personal skills have improved,” Rosencrants said. “Coming back together, being able to play together is definitely going to help our team a lot.”
At Geneva, brothers Bennett and Chandler Fuzak transferred to the boys team, adding further depth to a loaded frontcourt.
Like Jakaitis, the Fuzaks came from a private school to their hometown high school. Unlike Jakaitis, the former Wheaton Academy pillars hadn’t lived in this particular hometown very long.
Home-schooled until high school, the Fuzaks – 6-10 senior Chandler and 6-7 junior Bennett – relocated from Naperville to Geneva about a year ago. They took quickly to their new surroundings, with Chandler Fuzak (D-II West Texas A&M recruit) continuing to multitask as a musical theater participant, prompting Vikings coach Phil Ralston to brand him “kind of a different cat.”
Outside interests notwithstanding, the brothers enter a program that is coming off a banner 2013-14 season that saw the Vikings eighty-six a 28-year-old regional title drought. While their addition fuels preseason buzz, it also adds more considerations on Ralston’s part.
“The challenges of having the two young men come in is we did have a group of returning seniors that were pretty strong and tight-knit after going through the grind of last year,” Ralston said. “You always worry if there’s going to be any jealousy. You worry about rotations, how does their play affect maybe others, how will those kids react. But you take those things on as you come and you try to get people focused on why they’re playing the game – for Geneva – and get them to understand when we all work together, it’s amazing what we can achieve.”
Emily Lasse of the Batavia girls team afforded coach Kevin Jensen more time to ponder her place in the rotation. A junior forward, Lasse and her family moved from Texas midway through the 2013-14 school year. Ineligible to play down the stretch last season, Lasse still practiced and developed an early rapport with her teammates-to-be.
Jakaitis’ arrival led Masoncup to do some lineup shuffling. Knowing most of his returners could play multiple positions as Jakaitis sets up camp in the post, some forwards became guards and some guards became forwards while “versatility” became a popular camp buzzword.
The moves aren’t fazing the North Stars as they welcome Jakaitis back. A freshman sister, Kelly, also is in the North basketball pipeline. She’s also part of the carpool, a happy novelty that comes when you transfer to be closer to home.
“I had friends that I had in middle school and I came back and they’re my friends now,” Claire Jakaitis said. “So it’s not like a completely different place. They’re all really nice.”
The Fuzaks may not be as rooted with their Geneva teammates, but they never hesitated in taking the proper steps to build a base.
Another transfer principle: it’s hard to feel completely at ease if you’re the new player just keeping to yourself.
“I have to say both the boys have been extremely impressive, not just for what I think they can offer the team and their ability to play the game and their size, but they’ve been the type of kids we want in our program,” Ralston said. “They’re good teammates, they’re vocal, they congratulate their teammates, they enjoy being around their teammates. They’re very high-quality character kids, and interesting, too.”
• Sports editor Jay Schwab
contributed to this report.