Dylan Van Fleet delayed her D-I basketball career to hike the Appalachian Trail and raise money for cancer research.
Dylan Van Fleet will always set her own course, even as others follow in her footsteps. The Morton College (Cicero) freshman is quiet in nature, doing much of her talking through her actions.
Some of that nature is by design, the rest by consequence of her lived experiences.
Van Fleet’s Chi Hoops Express AAU coach Jerald Davis, who she affectionately refers to as “JD,” describes her as quiet toward adults, but said she has always gotten along well with teammates — dating all the way back to when he first saw her play with the program around fifth grade and continuing as he began coaching her directly in eighth grade.
“Dylan was quiet in the sense of, she was more non-verbal, but she was very, very physical, very aggressive, very tough-minded and highly competitive,” Davis said. “To be honest with you, I think that [her actions] was how she spoke.”
Brenna Loftus thought from a young age that college basketball could be in her future. Even so, well into her high school career there was enough doubt cast in her mind to question the possibility of playing at the next level.
After a historic 2019-20 season for 30-win, Metro Suburban Blue division-winning Riverside Brookfield and a pandemic that erased her final travel season, Loftus confronted an uncertain reality.
“As I got older, I wasn’t entirely sure [if I’d play collegiately], but then my junior year season was so fun and quarantine happened,” Loftus said. “It was weird to have such a long period of time without playing basketball. Losing my last travel season kind of woke me up to maybe I couldn’t go four years without playing.”
There, she’s hopeful to study environmental science and Spanish.
“Washington University ended up giving me the best opportunity to play really competitive, really good basketball in a really difficult conference and a really competitive conference, alongside providing really incredible academics and really good workforce opportunities and internship opportunities, study abroad programs and all of that,” Loftus said.
Riverside Brookfield coach Dallas Till, a 20-plus game winner each of the last eight seasons, called Loftus “crafty,” and credited Loftus’ attacking mindset with her prolific scoring ability. He noted that while his team is capable of scoring in a half-court offense, he much prefers playing in transition, and Loftus’ quickness and finishing ability is the perfect cog in the machine.
With a full season in place — far from a certainty with the coronavirus pandemic — Loftus could reach 3,000 points. Doing so would leave her top 10 in IHSA history in scoring.
“I think she overwhelms people and surprises people with her speed,” Till said.
Till added that he’s confident in Loftus’ ability to shoot, but that it’s not needed for Loftus to score.
“She can shoot it,” he said. “Her role last year was just to get to the basket.”
Loftus was candid about her need to become a better shooter and a better defender.
“I definitely think it would really help my game if I could become a better perimeter shooter,” Loftus said. “That’s a huge part of the game, and the more ways you have to score, the harder you are to guard for sure. I think growing up I was always kind of tall and so I think I stuck to driving because of that. So it’s been a part of how I’ve played since I was young. I think in terms of that, I definitely need to get better at using my left hand. That’s what my dad would tell you at least.”
According to Loftus, competing with Chi Hoops Express, full of college-level talent, was something that served to motivate her.
“Playing in that type of environment I think makes everybody better,” Loftus said. “You’re around girls that are better than you all the time and you’re around girls that are just as hungry to get better.”
For Loftus, who is most excited about carrying over the energy from last season to this season for her team in a strong Metro Suburban, just having a season would be enough.
“The main goal is just to keep the same type of energy and same excitement that we all had,” Loftus said. “It was never a boring day in the gym because we were all so excited to be there and nobody was ever dreading going to practice and we all showed up for each other. And I think that’s the biggest thing that we want to keep going into next season because ultimately that’s what led to the success that we saw.”
Ronan storming to Georgia
Maine South’s Ellie Ronan, a 6-2 senior forward, announced her verbal commitment to a highly successful program in Atlanta, Georgia: Division III Oglethorpe University.
The Stormy Petrels boasted a record of 29-1 in the regular season after boasting an undefeated 14-0 record in Southern Athletic Conference and were riding a 27-game win streak before their season came to an end due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to Maine South coach Jeff Hamann, Ronan has made significant strides over the last few seasons, and primarily came off the bench to average 3.1 points and grab 3.0 rebounds last season for the 26-7, Class 4A regional title-winning Hawks.
“Ellie’s story goes much beyond her stats from last season,” Hamann wrote in an email. “As a freshman, she played on our Freshmen B Team and played a reserve role even on that team. She continued into sophomore year and made our JV Team. However, her minutes were extremely limited during that season. It is after her sophomore year [when] she really decided to work on her game. During the summer and fall of 2019 (between her sophomore-junior year), she improved significantly (her ability to finish around the basket, her footwork, her ball handling, her toughness, her conditioning, etc.).
“Her improvements carried into tryouts where she made the varsity team while passing up several girls that were ahead of her on the depth chart during the previous two seasons,” Hamann continued. “She worked even harder as the season started and earned herself the reserve role she played for our team last season. If you think about it… freshman B team reserve role, to JV Team where she hardly played, to the varsity as a junior where she was in our top 7-8 on a 26-7 team. Now, she has earned herself the honor of being a college basketball player. Her best basketball years are certainly yet to come. “
Udoiwod staying local
Geneva senior Niyah Udoiwod has played successful basketball for years now and will continue on the court locally with a stronghold in McHenry County Community College.
Udoiwod will play for Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference coach of the year Karen Wiley and a Scotts team that posted a record of 23-5 and an undefeated, championship-winning 10-0 mark in conference play.
“I decided to further my playing career with MCC because it made a lot of sense to me and my family,” Udowiod said. “The MCC coaching staff know what they are doing basketball wise. They have a fantastic program and were pretty definitive on how they would utilize my skill-sets and athleticism in their system as well as further develop my abilities and potential to continue at the division one level at a four-year university.
After playing for the school’s feeder program, Udoiwod transitioned into a productive role with the Vikings and is happy to have continued her time in basketball. The senior ha had the goal of playing collegiately for several years, something she said her father encouraged.
“My dad challenged me to be able to play at the collegiate level,” Udoiwod said. “He said I would have a lot of fun playing the sport in college and high school and I have so far.”
She also credited a number of people for getting her closer to being college-ready as a senior.
“My coaches, coach Collins of Illinois Hoop Dreams and coach (Sarah) Meadows, coach Caty, have been very helpful,” Udoiwod said.
Hines back in the swing of things
Taking an unconventional path in her basketball journey, Alicia Hines is joining Thomas University’s program in Thomasville, Georgia.