By Kaleb Carter
A second-place finish in the Green-North Conference in her freshman season left Amundsen’s Reina Grunfeld unsatisfied. She and other Vikings wanted to be playing at a higher level.
“My freshman year, it was not a great year,” Grunfeld, now a senior, said. “(Coach Cole Hunton) wasn’t here. We had a very typical low-grade CPS school basketball (team) basically. I wasn’t happy with our team. Sophomore year we came in and we were like, ‘This is our goal. This is what we’re going to do by senior year. You’re going to get to the Red. You’re going to get to the top.’”
On Wednesday, Jan. 19, the Vikings claimed a conference title for the second time in Hunton’s three seasons, this time in the White North/West, and moved to 9-0 in conference play with a 61-33 win over visiting Clark.
Grunfeld scored 27 and hit four three-pointers. Jocelyn Chammas added 13 points.
All of this conference success after starting 1-5 in a challenging non-conference slate.
Grunfeld, a guard, led the way against Clark with timely shooting, an ability to finish on the fast-break, and most importantly, leadership traits honed over the last few seasons.
Hunton said that Grunfeld and Reynolds were immediately anointed the cornerstones of the program as sophomores upon Hunton’s arrival.
“Year one, I don’t think they had the slightest idea of what it took,” Hunton said. “There was a want-to. Parents wanted things to change. The administration wanted to change. The program hadn’t done anything in 20-something-odd years. Everybody said, ‘Hey, I want to win.’ But are you willing to buy in and do those things?”
Grunfeld’s sophomore year, during the 2019-20 season, there wasn’t a single upperclassman on the roster.
“I never expected to just get put in as a sophomore as a captain and be leading a team as an underclassman,” Grunfeld said. “Basically for two years we were leading, no seniors on our team, no juniors.”
The young Vikings played with tenacity, pressing teams, trapping, trotting out zones. It’s something they’ve done to this day.
Following that sophomore year, COVID-19 hit, and things easily could have gone awry. Instead, the Vikings stayed together.
“After year one we took about a two-week break in March of 2020 and then we completely switched to a whole virtual deal,” Hunton said. “We never skipped a beat and people just stayed engaged, stayed in contact, connected and that really got this thing started. While last season was really short, to have that level of success and then have a busy June like we did and to start buying in … once you start seeing success against the upper echelon of teams and good competition, it makes it easy to buy in.”
Through Zoom calls, getting together in parks and weightlifting together when possible, the Vikings forged a unit that would make some noise this season and last.
“Basically we didn’t stop,” Grunfled said. “As the summer (of 2020) went on, we were able to see each other a little more, be able to play, not officially. But as juniors we brought everyone to play in the park, or this and that, and we just built on it.”
In last season’s shortened season, the Vikings went 12-5 overall and 9-0 in the Blue Northwest to move up to the White North/West.
After this season’s slow start, the Vikings have won 14 of their last 17 games and have Trinity and North Shore Country Day remaining on the schedule after the start of the Chicago Public League playoffs. The initial release of the CPL bracket has Amundsen — No. 20 of 32 teams who made the playoffs — playing No. 13 Perspectives. The Vikings stood 16-9 overall as of Sunday.
While seniors Grunfeld, a college-basketball hopeful, and Reynolds have led the way, Hunton thinks the junior class has perhaps an even better understanding of what it has taken for Amundsen to continue its winning ways. Even after losing their cornerstones, the Vikings have a cast of players who will return next season who have learned how to win, including Chammas, who is already a steady.
“I think our junior class really has a firm grasp of where we were and where we are at today,” Hunton said.
But ask Grunfeld, and she understands the impact her class has had on the once-floundering program.
“From everyone who started with us, the seniors and juniors, we were all like, ‘I can’t believe we got here,’” Grunfeld said. “But at the same time, we worked our butts off to get here. We know we deserve it and we should be in the Red.”