All coaches can relate to what Dan McGuire has experienced in his first season at Yorkville.
"We have been up and down," McGuire said. "We have had moments where we said: 'Wow!' We are really athletic. But at other times we look like we should be playing sophomore basketball."
McGuire is saying 'Wow!' these days. Yorkville is 20-7 after beating Sandwich 45-31 in its Class 3A regional opener on Tuesday night and will carry a five-game winning streak into Friday night's final against Aurora Central Catholic.
Yorkville is seeking its third trip to the supersectional. The Foxes qualified in 1995 and 2002 under former coaches Chris Nelson and Jerry Farber. They were 25-2 and 26-2 in 2004 and 2005 under Farber but never got out of the sectional. Last year's 15-10 team lost to Morris in the regional semifinal.
Even though he graduated four starters from last year's squad, McGuire felt this year's team would be better than its third-place finish behind Rochelle and De Kalb in the Northern Illinois Big 12. Five of its seven losses are to conference rivals, two to Rochelle and De Kalb.
"We knew we had some good athletes," McGuire said. "Last year, we had a lot of seniors so these kids didn't play much. They had to take time to get used to playing varsity basketball and a new system. But they are a good group, a bunch of fighters."
McGuire, a 1998 graduate of West Aurora, played basketball for veteran coach Gordon Kerkman. But he didn't play basketball in college. Instead, he played football and tennis at Aurora University.
He was an in-school suspension teacher at West Aurora when he learned of a job opening at Yorkville. He was a volunteer assistant on the freshman team, then moved up to Farber's varsity assistant. When Farber retired last year, McGuire became head coach.
The Foxes are led by 6-foot-1 senior Stefen Jones (14 ppg), who played only three or four minutes per game last season but has developed into a major force this season. He had 11 points, all in the second half, to spark Yorkville's victory over Sandwich.
Other starters are 6-foot-6 senior Josh Williams (10 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot senior Brandon Holmes (6 ppg, 4 assists), 6-foot senior Cody Bailey (10 ppg) and 5-foot-10 senior Derek Piszczek (6 ppg), a four-year varsity player who has come back after undergoing serious knee surgery last summer. Taylor Carter, a 6-foot-2 junior, is a sparkplug off the bench.
Against Sandwich, Williams had 11 rebounds and Carter converted two three-pointers in the fourth quarter and sealed the victory.
"We're not big but we're athletic and we play at a fast tempo," McGuire said. "We have five good players who start. Opponents can't zero in on one player. A lot of guys have stepped up in different games.
"To keep going (deep into the playoff), our seniors have to show leadership and step up and do things at the end of games that we need to do to win...contest shots, rebound, little things that separate wins and losses."
McGuire said the most important thing that has turned this team into a 20-game winner is chemistry, something he wasn't sure of when the season began with so many inexperienced players vying for playing time.
"These kids get along," he said. "They don't care who scores 20 points or no points. They just want to win. They make an extra pass for a kid to get a layup. There is no animosity. You never know what will happen when you are dealing with high school kids who are stepping into new roles of leadership. But these kids have handled the challenge."