Caden Anderson can appreciate how far Westmont has come in four years.
He's not content, though.
Anderson is one of four seniors that Westmont coach Craig Etheridge brought up to varsity as freshmen. It was not always smooth sailing. Westmont won a combined 18 games Anderson's first two seasons.
"Our freshman and sophomore years, we weren't that great of a team," Anderson said. "It showed that we have to work harder. Once you get to varsity, it's just a different kind of game with the speed and physicality."
The early struggles have clearly paid off.
Westmont is 17-2, its last loss came in November, and the Sentinels are riding a 14-game win streak. They're tied with Lisle and Coal City atop the Interstate Eight Conference, and recently won the championship of the ICCP/Westmont Christmas Classic.
And much of that is thanks to seniors Anderson, Michael Thompson, Matt O'Leary and Troy Schlicher, four four-year varsity players.
"We struggled a little bit when they were young, people questioned if we should have brought them up," Etheridge said, "but we thought if we keep developing, if they keep the right attitude and right perspective it will pay off. Last year we started to see some positive results and this year it's definitely paying off. We don't have anybody questioning it anymore."
The Christmas tournament run included big wins over Eisenhower and previously unbeaten Latin.
"Eisenhower was predicted to win the tournament by a people people – we did a nice job limiting their athletic advantage and did a nice job rebounding," Etheridge said. "The Latin game was back and forth. The second half we hit some shots and created some separation."
Balance has been key to Westmont's success. Etheridge estimated he's had six or seven guys lead his team in scoring.
Schlicher, quarterback of the football team, broke his collarbone in football, but fortunately didn't missed any basketball games. The high-energy player is a defensive spark. O'Leary has grown to 6-foot-2, and the added height has changed his game. Thompson is one of Westmont's best outside shooters. Alex Pietrzak, sixth man as a sophomore last year, is another key piece.
Anderson is the foundation.
"He knows how we want things done, he's good communicating with teammates, he's so consistent for me," Etheridge said. "It's hard to put a value on what he does on both ends of the floor."
Anderson, too, is determined to sustain Westmont's success. The Sentinels started last season 13-1, but faded down the stretch. They took third at the Interstate Eight Conference tournament.
"We want to take it to the next level and not fall off," Anderson said. "Last year we made it to the tournament semifinals, and we caught Streator on a hot shooting night. It's nice to be in the top three, but this year, our goal is to win it and make a statement."
Timothy Christian in Arizona: The Timothy Christian basketball team just returned from a two-game trip to Arizona this week.
It's the third trip for the Trojans, who have gone to Arizona every other year the last five seasons during the school's two-week term called "Renew," a chance for high school kids to travel the country doing service work under the direction of teachers, or for sports teams to travel and serve and compete.
The Trojans' basketball team went to Los Angeles five years ago, and have now made two trips to Phoenix, where current Superintendent Matt Davidson was previously the Superintendent at Northwest Christian School in Phoenix.
"The team had a great time," assistant coach Matt Huizinga said. "Aside from going 2-0, the boys bonded over devotions, worshipping together at Christ Church of the Valley, touring Grand Canyon University, presenting a chapel to middle school students at Northwest Christian School about kindness and hiking Piestewa Peak."
Shootout roundup: With the calendar flipping over to January, basketball shootout season is in full swing.
This Saturday, Downers Grove North hosts its Winter Classic. The tripleheader of games has Hinsdale Central playing Plainfield North at 1:30 p.m., Oswego East-South Elgin at 3 p.m. and Downers Grove North-Romeoville at 4:30 p.m.
On Jan. 26, Glenbard East hosts its "When Sides Collide" shootout. The five-game slate has Evanston-Normal West at 1 p.m., Glenbard East-Glenbard West at 2:30 p.m., St. Viator-Bloom at 4 p.m., Simeon-Bolingbrook at 5:30 p.m. and Benet-Naperville North at 7:15 p.m.