The Hersey Huskies were dominant from the start of Saturday’s 55-15 win over hosts Wheeling, racing out to a 31-0, second-quarter lead. But the score was far from the most interesting thing going on between two teams playing in their first game of the season.
Longtime Huskies coach Mary Fendley stood masked up, across from counterpart and first-year Wheeling head coach Beth Christell.
Their relationship? Former teacher and pupil.
Fendley, who coached Christell for the Huskies in 2000-2003, got the best of her former player Saturday, but she is excited for more of what’s to come in future Mid-Suburban League competition against her colleague and one-time standout guard. The Daily Herald covered Christell’s hiring as head coach.
Illinois-Basketball.com caught up with both Christell and Fendley after the game and asked about their teams, their relationship with one another and their expectations for the future.
Q: First of all, just how nice is it to be out on the court again playing in live-game action considering the circumstances in the world?
A (Fendley): I am absolutely thrilled to be coaching. A few short weeks ago it did not seem like this would happen. I told my girls that I even appreciate having to drive the bus while listening to tone deaf singers. (Seriously, they are amazing athletes. Singing – not so much.)
Q: How satisfied were you with the hot start and what’s the overall attitude of this team heading into a hectic few weeks of games?
A: I am blessed to have an amazingly talented group of athletes. The last few days at practice, things have started to click. I think we have a lot of offensive firepower, and am hopeful that a few of the girls will be ‘on’ at any given time. I think we all appreciate the opportunity we have to play the game we love. And, we just want to make the most of it.
Q: What years did you coach Beth Christell, and what type of player was she then? Knowing she’s been part of Wheeling’s program a few years, did you notice any changes to the way they play this year compared to years past when she was an assistant?
A: Beth was a strong guard whose atheticism made her super versatile. She could hit threes but could slash through the paint when overplayed.
The past few years I have been so impressed with how she has coached her JV team. She has shown a great combination of patience on the sideline with her girls while also motivating them to perform their best. Honestly, I was able to notice her more when I wasn’t coaching against her!
Q: What do you think folks who follow Wheeling basketball can expect from her leading that program, and how much are you looking forward to coaching against her in the future?
Beth is a competitor. So, Wheeling fans can know that she will continue to work hard to keep the program improving.
Q: How was it coaching against her tonight overall and did it produce any unique thoughts or feelings?
I appreciate being able to be in a league with Beth and so many other coaches who are passionate about what we do. She is a great representative of Wheeling, District 214, and the MSL. I probably sound cheesy, but I’m proud of Beth. She has done everything the right way to get to this point as a varsity coach. I have no doubt that she will do great things.
Q: How nice is it to be out on the court again playing in live-game action considering the circumstances in the world?
A: With the uncertainty of most athletics this year, it’s been a really tough year for the girls. For their physical and mental well-being, they’ve needed some normalcy, and I’m so grateful we’re able to do whatever it takes to have a season this year.
Q: What’s the overall attitude of your team heading into a hectic few weeks of games and how much are you all focused on growth in a short season?
We can definitely feel the rush of the season; however, as a coaching staff of a group with no seniors, our push has continuously been progress. We are using this year to grow our understanding of the game and improve our team goals and priorities. Knowing that I have all of these girls back next season is a great feeling for our program.
Q: What years did you play for Mary, and what do you remember most vividly about her coaching style and playing for her? I read your father was a coach at Hersey a long time, how deep does that connection run deep to Hersey athletics?
A: I played for Fen and Barthel from 2000-2003 and remember that they always had a great balance of high expectations and fun. We did so many fun team activities to help build relationships with each other, but also was expected to compete during practice. Hersey High School was such an important part of my life. My father and mother both coached and taught at the school (dad, basketball and business teacher, mom, cheerleading, swimming and deaf and hard of hearing teacher for 32 years at Hersey). So many of the reasons I teach high school math and coach at the high school level are because of my interactions with the amazing teachers and coaches at Hersey. I will always be grateful for what Hersey has given to me and how it has helped make me who I am today.
Q: Knowing you’ve been part of Wheeling’s program a few years, have you tried to institute any broad changes or are you just building on what you’ve done as an assistant? Perhaps building on things she taught you as a coach?
A: The main changes I have tried to initiate at Wheeling has been to improve the numbers and communication with our feeder program. We have some great people in charge of the feeder program, and I have high hopes, that with higher numbers of kids interested in girls basketball at the middle school age, we can only improve our program outlook in the years to come. The other thing I’ve been striving to improve is to get our girls to see the importance of details and competing with each other. Both of these things were taught to me at Hersey and throughout my playing in college. If the girls can understand the little things/details of a basketball game, it will lead to bigger things. And the idea that competition among a team is a good thing; the sky is the limit to how far Wheeling Girls Basketball can go.
Q: How often do you and Mary still communicate as colleagues in the league?
A: Fen and I haven’t communicated tons up until this year. Before a few years ago, I was coaching at other schools (Elgin and Stevenson) and it isn’t until the past few years that I came back into the MSL. Now, especially as a varsity head coach, I see her and Barthel as people I can go to for anything. I’m honored I can call them colleagues in the league.
Q: What do you think folks who follow Wheeling basketball can expect from you leading that program and how much are you looking forward to coaching against Mary in the future?
A: This is a tough year. With a shortened season and no seniors, we really see this year as a pre-season to the 2021-2022 season. Our coaching staff have preached to the girls that they need to have something that sticks out to Wheeling basketball. No one will make every shot. No one will never have a break down on defense. However, hustle, aggressiveness, attitude and effort are things we can control every single game. With some more time, practice and competition among our team, I’m excited to consistently improve against great teams, like Hersey, in the MSL. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re ready for the challenge.
Q: How was it coaching against Mary tonight overall and did it produce any unique thoughts or feelings?
A: Coaching against Fen and Barthel tonight definitely brought up some emotions. On one hand, I felt like I didn’t belong. For women, who I looked up to for so long and have put so many hours into the game of basketball, I felt not in their league. On the other hand, I was honored to be coaching at the varsity level and to be able to set goals for myself and my program, similar to what Fen and Barthel have accomplished at Hersey. I know they have coached a lot of talented basketball athletes and to be the first alumni to coach against Fen, has been a privilege.
Q: Finally, as you guys grow and play games in quick succession, what types of things are you looking for from your team and who do you expect to make big strides in the coming weeks?
A: With the shortened season, we are looking to make improvements. Every game, every practice. We’re not going to go from scoring 15 points in a game to scoring 60 overnight. But if we remind ourselves of our goals and make small improvements day by day, that’s success for us! We reminded our girls after the first game last night that we’re a team that needs everyone to pitch in. We’re not necessarily going to have a girl that scores 20 or 25 points a night. We’re excited for our junior leadership in Nikki Niznik, Sara Aranda, Ashley Yasak and Julia Kawa, and are encouraged by some talented freshmen coming up in Maya Huelsman and Marlena Miloucheva. The future looks bright and our girls are ready to compete.
Notable stat lines from the game
Hersey Team Stats: 16 assists; 24 of 41 shooting.
Mary Kate Fahey, 14 points; 3 assists
Avery Larson, 4 assists; 5 rebounds
Katy Eidle, 12 points; 3 assists; 3 steals
Mary McGrath 13 points; 5 assists ; 4 rebounds; 6 of 6 FG
For Wheeling, junior Sara Aranda was 2 of 3 from beyond the 3-point arc and freshman Maya Huelsman scored 4 points in her first game.