By Randy Whalen
Sandburg continued their best start in years with a pair of SouthWest Suburban Conference crossover wins last week.
The first, a 45-37 win over Lincoln-Way Central on Dec. 10 in New Lenox, was their fourth in a row.
The Eagles’ lone loss this season was a 52-48 setback to St. Ignatius on Nov. 27 in the semifinals of the Hinsdale South Tournament. Their success in the early going is certainly the best in coach Nick Fotopoulos’ four years at the helm and is evoking memories of the 19-year period between 1988 and 2006, during which the Eagles (8-1) won 20 or more games every season and captured 18 regional championships and four sectional titles.
Since then, Sandburg has one 20-win season and one regional title, both coming when the Eagles went 24-8 in 2014-15. They finished 14-15 last season.
“We have great team chemistry and a young group,” Fotopoulos said. “They play hard and I’m really proud of their efforts.”
Against Central, Josie Canellis did the most damage for the Eagles, coming off the bench to score a team-high 11 points. The freshman guard had her baskets come at key moments.
“Every game, we’ve bonded and we do a good job executing,” Canellis said. “This was a big game for us.”
Canellis was 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
“Every game is really nerve-wracking coming in,” Canellis said. “But then I just start playing and shooting and sort of get into the flow of things and I feel more comfortable.”
Practicing her long-range shooting with her dad, George, helps.
“We go out and shoot a ton every week,” Canellis said. “He rebounds for me and gets me one shot after another for a really long time. It has just become repetition. I practice shooting a ton, so it feels really natural catching and shooting, catching and shooting, catching and shooting.”
Fotopoulos is happy for Canellis and her contributions.
“Yeah, Josie can shoot it,” Fotopoulos said. “We knew coming in as a freshman that it was a role she could fill for us. When she gets some space and comes off screens, she does a really good job of it catching and shooting. She’s a real spark off the bench.”
Sandburg sprinted out to an 11-0 lead behind eight points from senior forward Steffi Manthey (10 points). Her twin sister, Maggie, added nine points in the game.
Central was within 27-25 with 5:22 to play in the third quarter, but Sandburg sophomore guard Erin O’Connor scored three points and senior guard Grace Badon converted any old-fashioned three-point play as the Eagles extended to a 33-25 lead after three.
Canellis contributed five consecutive points to start the fourth quarter, including her third trey, as Sandburg sailed to another 11-0 run for a 38-25 advantage with 6:49 to play in the game. The Knights never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Sandburg won its second game of the week, 63-56 over Bradley-Bourbonnais in another SWSC crossover. Sophomore forward Charlotte Trunk led the way with 16 points. Steffi Manthey and Maggie Manthey added 14 and 11 points, respectively.
“A lot of us girls have played together for a long time,” said Trunk, who is the daughter of former Oak Forest girls basketball coach Bridget Trunk. “I think we all have a good connection since we’ve been playing with each other for years.
“I feel like we have a really good opportunity here. Our team is still kind of young and we are trying to build a program. That starts here.”