Dundee-Crown girls basketball coach Sarah Miller noticed something different at summer camp.
“There was a different feeling around the team,” said Miller, entering her seventh season at D-C. “I felt like we pushed each other more than we ever had. I see a different sense of confidence in them. They know how good they can be.”
Like many area teams preparing for the season, D-C had a busy summer schedule, starting with team camp in May. The Chargers’ summer ended last week with four wins at the UCLA Bruins girls basketball camp.
For many of the Chargers, it was their first trip to the West Coast.
“Not everyone gets a chance to go to California and get away for a couple of days,” senior guard Payton Schmidt said. “It was cool to be at a winning program like UCLA, but it wasn’t just about basketball. It was about building a family culture, learning new things about each other and how special this season can really be.”
The Chargers, who finished 23-9 last season and took runner-up to Hampshire in the Fox Valley Conference, going 14-2, believe that they have all of the pieces to put together a special season.
D-C lost only two games this summer, winning the Palatine Summer League and Auburn Battle of the Castle Shootout. The Chargers were runner-up at the DeKalb Shootout, losing to Sycamore in the championship, and went 4-0 at UCLA.
The Chargers raised more than $10,000 for the 2,000-mile trip, visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica before competing in the two-day UCLA camp.
In addition to playing games, players and coaches participated in breakdown sessions, agility drills and mental exercises with UCLA women’s basketball head coach Cori Close and Bruins players.
“Just being able to go to a gym with that much history was really cool for them to see,” Miller said. “They have the setups of all the national championships there, cool exhibits of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller and all of the history of basketball players that have gone there.
“It was an awesome and amazing opportunity.”
The Chargers return four starters in Schmidt and Katelyn Skibinski, both seniors, and juniors Alyssa Crenshaw and Gianine Boado.
Crenshaw averaged 10.4 points and nine rebounds a game and earned Northwest Herald All-Area second-team honors. Schmidt was an honorable mention pick and averaged 10 points a game. Skibinski averaged 9.5 points and Boado averaged 9.1 points, made a team-high 52 3-pointers and led the team in assists.
The entire varsity is made up of upperclassmen with eight seniors and three juniors. Many have played together since about seventh grade in D-C’s feeder leagues, leading to a lot of familiarity on the court.
“Even in the beginning of summer, we knew we had a pretty special group,” Schmidt said. “One of our greatest strengths is our team culture. We know each other’s strengths and all have each other’s backs. The depth of our team is amazing. There’s no drop-off in energy.”
The Chargers will get a big boost on the court with the return of senior guard Cassidy Randl, who tore her ACL in the first game last season. She’s been on varsity since her freshman year and is one of the team’s top shooters.
Miller said Randl brings more to the team than just her shot.
“She brings a lot of leadership,” Miller said. “She has so much heart and passion for the game. The team kind of rallied around her, and we’re so excited. It’s huge for our team. She’s such a talented player, she’s a captain for us. Her being able to come back, build that confidence and get back on the floor is huge.”
Randl gained a new perspective she thinks will help in her return.
“Being on the bench opened my eyes to the little details,” Randl said. “I kind of got a different perspective. It means everything to be back for my senior year. We have high goals and high expectations. I think we’re capable of big things.”
The Chargers ended last year with a Class 4A regional final loss to Crystal Lake Central, a team D-C beat both times in conference play. D-C won three straight regional titles from 2015 to 2017, but has lost in the regional final in each of the past two seasons.
Winning a conference and regional championship is high on the list of goals for D-C.
“We never want that feeling again because it’s such an awful feeling,” Schmidt said. “We all have the hunger and drive to be great and be a winning team. Last year, we just didn’t perform when it came to the pressure situations. We’re all working hard so that doesn’t happen again.”