As the Class 4A playoffs begin this week, this season's biggest surprise in the area, the Fremd Vikings, will look to continue to surprise doubters and carry on with their unbeaten season.
The Vikings finished the regular season undefeated at 25-0 and currently sit at No. 6 in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. They also earned the Mid-Suburban League championship after knocking off Prospect in the title game last Wednesday.
But now the focus turns to the postseason, as the second-seeded Vikings will play in a very difficult Lake Zurich Sectional that includes No. 1 seed Stevenson and other CSN Preps Power Rankings teams such as Lake Forest, Zion-Benton and St. Viator.
Although Fremd finished the regular season unbeaten, Vikings head coach Bob Widlowski believes that his team is as focused as ever entering the postseason despite the inevtiable target on their back that comes with being the area's only unbeaten team.
"We had a very good couple days of practice after the MSL Championship and they're focused on regionals and the next game," Widlowski said to CSNChicago.com. "I think that our sectional is probably the most difficult sectional in the state. I think a lot of people would argue that. I think we need to approach it the same way we approached the season: focus on our next opponent. We can't win a bunch of games in a row without winning one game first. It's the same approach that we've had all season but it will serve us well."
That approach to each game has led Fremd to this point, according to Widlowski. He insists that the perfect season was not one of the team's goals heading into the year, and his team never spoke of the possibility of a perfect regular season.
"One of our goals was to win the league, not to have a perfect season. I think the perfect season is just a byproduct of the kids staying focused on the next opponent," Widlowski said. "That was not one of our goals going into the season, but I thought the kids did a great job of staying focused every single game. We'd win, we'd discuss it and we started preparing for our next opponent and we're in the same position now.
"We never discussed (the perfect regular season). We did not discuss it. We did not discuss it as a group. We did discuss staying focused and getting better every game. With Riley Glassmann and Ben Carlson, we've done a great job of staying focused on the next task at hand."
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Glassmann and Carlson, the Vikings' senior leaders, have given Fremd a huge boost this season as their consistency and effort day-in and day-out was credited by Widlowski as being a key reason that Fremd is in its current position.
Glassmann, who is committed to Cornell to play basketball next season is a four-year varsity player, while the 6-foot-6 Carlson mans the middle for the Vikings and has been on varsity for three years.
"They've been invaluable, and not just in their play -- their play has been rock solid -- but in their leadership," Widlowski said of Glassmann and Carlson. "They work very hard in the offseason. They're excellent students; great kids. They've been instrumental in us getting better every day and maintaining our focus week-in and week-out."
Widlowski believes that because his players set high expectations for themselves, they never settled for anything less and continued to work hard throughout the season.
"We sat down with the kids and they set their own goals to begin the season and they had high expectations," Widlowski said. "We had a nice summer, the kids worked hard in the summer and throughout the offseason and they set the expectations high and I think that that has kept them focused on what they're doing. They've continued to work hard and that puts us in the position we're in now."
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At 25-0, Fremd has certainly earned plenty of respect. But there are still some who question how far the Vikings can go in the postseason. While winning the MSL and going undefeated is a tremendous accomplishment, Fremd hasn't played as difficult a schedule as some other area teams and there are skeptics out there.
Some have even compared Fremd to Wichita State because of both team's perfect regular seasons and what some are calling a favorable schedule.
"We had our schedule set before the season," Widlowski said. "I think St. Viator is a very, very good team. We beat Evanston at Evanston. Conant is a very high seed in their sectional. We played Naperville Central. So we've played some nice teams and we've played a lot of different styles, also. We played teams that tried to hold the ball on us, we played teams that tried to play fast. I think playing those different styles will serve us well in the playoffs."
But as its been all season for Fremd, the Vikings aren't worried about anything other than taking it one game at a time. With a senior-laden team, Widlowski believes he has a group that is capable of doing great things in the postseason.
"We've had some kids that have played quite a bit and they've worked hard for this," Widlowski said. "Hopefully our senior experience will help us in some critical situations."