ROCKTON — Hononegah head coach Jason Brunke would have loved to see more members of his undefeated conference champions honored on the 2022-23 All-NIC-10 squad, but he understood what he was up against.
“People like to look at individual numbers and one of our biggest strengths was that we were so balanced,” said Brunke, who was named NIC-10 Coach of the Year for the second straight season after his team again went 18-0 in league play. “It can get a little tense (in the selection meeting) and everyone isn’t happy with the results. Everyone values their own players more than other teams do.”
Brunke’s best argument and most meaningful statistic he could point to was his team’s unbeaten won-loss record in conference. Hononegah finished 28-5 overall.
Brunke also thought he may be in for a battle convincing coaches to select Emma Clark, who was restricted to 19 total games due to a stress fracture in her foot.
“We have by-laws for all-conference and the minimum you have to play is eight league games,” Brunke said. “That’s what she played. But if she had played out the entire season she would most likely have been in the MVP conversation.”
NIC-10 coaches must have taken that into account because the 5-foot-8 wing player was named to the 10-player First Team along with 5-8 senior teammate Breacia Carter, who played an undersized yet effective post all season.
“Emma was obviously looked at the way she should have been, as one of the best players in the conference,” Brunke said. “We asked Bre to play out of position and she had a fine season.”
Clark, a Saint Xavier University recruit, was clearly one of the best outside shooters in the NIC-10. She shot 157 3-pointers and converted 60 for 38.2 percent. She averaged 13.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 steals, playing 26 minutes per game.
Carter’s points-per-game don’t jump out either, at 10.7, but she played only 21 minutes per game as the Indians often substituted freely with large leads. She averaged six rebounds per game.
Hononegah junior Allyson Niedfeldt was one of just five Special Mention selections on the team. She converted 60 3-pointers and averaged nine points per game.
“A lot of the problem we had was that statistically we didn’t match up,” Brunke said. “But there is a reason we went 18-0. It’s these kids. We are so balanced and a lot of the time they were only playing three quarters because we were way ahead. That hurts their numbers, too.”
Brunke said senior Kamryn Abney, in particular, was overlooked on the team, but in his mind deserved recognition. She was a playmaker, leading the team with 133 assists and also its top ballhawk with 95 steals. She helped the team recover and go 8-0 in the NIC-10 after losing Clark to her injury.
“Kam had a great four years for us,” he said. “She was hurt when they looked strictly at the numbers and also whether they wanted to give us four players on the all-conference team.”
As for being named Coach of the Year again, Brunke said he’d trade it for a different finish to the season for the Indians. After defeating Harlem twice during the regular season they lost to them 44-31 in a cold-shooting IHSA regional final.
“Obviously I’m feeling a little burned from our end of the season,” Brunke said. “I would exchange (the award) for a regional plaque in a heartbeat. But it is something I can look back on and appreciate. Your peers vote on it and that’s nice.
“Coaches get more praise for winning and blame for losing than they should. It’s the players who have the impact. I look at the award as a good reflection of our team and their ability to handle adversity this year.”
Joining Clark and Carter on the First Team are Boylan junior and NIC-10 MVP Lily Esparza, Boylan senior Maggie Schmidt, Guilford seniors Avery Green and Lindsey Knuth, Belvidere sophomore Emma Pierson, Auburn freshman Destiny Robinson, Freeport senior Shirley Raniyah and Harlem senior Grace Vyborny.
In addition to Niedfeldt, the following players earned Special Mention: Guilford senior Jhanel Coleman, Boylan junior Kaylee Harter, Freeport senior Alexi Laci and Jefferson senior TaMya Sago.
• FINAL VARSITY STANDINGS: Hononegah 18-0, Boylan 15-3, Guilford 14-4, Harlem 13-5, Auburn 81-0, Jefferson 8-10, Freeport 5-13, Bevidere 5-13, Belvidere North 4-14, Rockford East 0-18.
• FINAL JAYVEE STANDINGS: Boylan 16-2, Guilford 16-2, Hononegah 16-2, Harlem 11-7, Belvidere North 10-8, Auburn 8-10, Jefferson 7-11, Freeport 3-15, Belvidere 3-15, Rockford East 0-18.