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Aurora Christian's Alyssa Andersen and St. Bede's Laura Sickley battle for control of a loose ball at Somonauk High School in Somonauk during the class 2A Sectional game on Monday, February 11, 2013. | Erik Anderson~For Sun-Times Media
Moments after the dream season for Aurora Christian came to a close with a loss to St. Bede in the Class 2A Somonauk Sectional semifinals Monday, coach Jerry Tokars saw something he liked from his young team.
“They all feel bad, which is good, because it means they want more,” Tokars said. “That’s good to see. You see it at every level. You get there, get a taste, and you work hard and get there a second time. It’s a progression. This was an awesome season. It’s a record-breaking season, what more can you say about it?”
Despite having only one senior, the Eagles set out from the beginning of the season to put the program on the map, and Monday’s loss cannot erase all they accomplished. The past month showed how far the program has come. They put together a late charge to win a share of the Suburban Christian Gold, setting a school record for wins along the way. Then they won the program’s first regional title. They finished with a 19-9 record.
“I told them, this program is taking off, and it’s because of their hard work, all of them,” Tokars said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Throughout the season, Tokars introduced underclassmen to the roster — initially just on the bench — but gradually they started seeing more and more time. By the time Monday’s game came around, freshman Kirsten Madsen was a starter and fellow freshmen Gabby Galbato and Ashley Hochsprung chipped in off the bench. Their integration to the lineup was by design, something Tokars learned from his father, Jerry, a Hall of Fame coach at De La Salle.
“I wanted to get them acclimated,” Tokars said. “I like to get them indoctrinated into the program. They can see the pregame and halftime, get in mop-up games. We did that shortly after Thanksgiving.”
The focus for many has been on the fact the Eagles return all but one player next year and have a frosh/soph team that finished with a 15-5 mark as well. But Tokars was quick to point out what senior Alex Hultine meant to this group.
“We graduate one girl, and she’s a heck of a girl,” Tokars said. “She’s an awesome kid on and off the court, so we’re going to miss her, there’s no doubt. She is just a great example on and off the court, just a great kid. She’s leaving a great legacy for the youngsters and I think they’ll grab that baton.”
Hultine has no doubt this is just the first step of many for the program she is leaving behind.
“I know they’re going to do just as good and go even further because they really are working hard,” Hultine said. “They all really love the game. It is just the first step of many. We’re really starting to build up.”
As players streamed out of the locker room, eyes red from crying, Hultine knows the initial sting of Monday’s loss will only serve them well next year.
“Now that they know this feeling, they’re going to know how to handle it next time they get to sectionals,” Hultine said. “I really think they can go further next year.”