Boys Basketball Gearing Up For Friday’s Home Game Against Hinsdale South

The bounce back. It’s the hardest thing to do in any sport, but the great ones do it.

Coming off a disappointing loss to Addison Trail, West Leyden senior Jonny Woolf is tasked with doing just that.

As the captain of the boys varsity basketball team, the 6’-2” power forward and his team will be up for a challenge against Hinsdale South’s agile offense, led by sharpshooting point guard Jerry Stolz.

Last year, the Eagles split their games with Hinsdale South, and they were both close, winning the first one 40-38, and losing the second, 54-47.

The Hornets have their leading scorer and point guard Jerry Stolz coming back. However, Leyden has made a point of playing lockdown D in the early going, keeping scores low, and tight.

“We play a 1-2-2 zone. Our job in that zone is to neutralize any stars that our opponent might have. We force more than 20 turnovers a game, and we’re going to smother Stoltz so he doesn’t have a chance to get hot. Hinsdale is a big team, and big means slow. We’re hoping to force turnovers and take advantage in transition. If we can do that, our chances [of winning] are good.”

After stringing together four straight wins, the Eagles have dropped two in a row, and look to get back to their winning ways in front of a friendly home crowd at the East field house this Friday night.

Woolf was quick to explain his team’s fast start: “We’ve been playing well and really have a feel for each other. Most of us seniors have been playing together for at least 4 years. I’ve played with Omar since 7th grade, so we know every little thing about each other’s game.”

The Eagles have four returning seniors this year, but only one returning starter, in Omar Lozoya. But Woolf is no stranger to the spotlight of the varsity floor.

“Omar was actually the only starter as a junior last year. I was 6th man and played a good amount of minutes though. It really helps experience wise, not having to deal with pressures like a first home game, a tough opposing crowd, or things like that.”

Of course, a question many were asking before the season began was how Leyden would account for losing the size and physicality of Pat Listwan and Brian McNamara — and the skills of playmaker Alex Herrera — to graduation. So far, it seems those holes have been filled pretty well, with the height of Anthony Gonzalez, Nick Best, Omar Lozoya, and Woolf, and point guard Jay Jackson stepping into Herrera’s role.

Woolf agrees: “Yeah, it was tough losing those guys, but we’re finding ways to replace what they did for us. Jay is a great playmaker and always finds us. Omar and myself lead the scoring, along with Stretch (Gonzalez). I like finding my teammates too, so any time I get a chance, I look to feed them.”

With the talented junior class coming up this year, I asked the captain who he thought could step up and possibly have a big year contributing on the varsity floor.

“Adrian Vallejo. A junior point guard… I’ve really grown close with this kid, and he has the most heart of anybody on the team. He’s grown the most, maturing and in his game. He’s worked a lot with us, and it’s really showing in his game.”

Senior Danny DiMaso is out with a back injury, but he, and fellow senior Gino Rivera, provides the team with a spark of humor and have been known to get the crowd pumped and into the games.

“This kid (DiMaso) has always brought energy. You can always expect a boost in the gym when Danny’s around, and always keeps the team laughing. He’s great for the team morale.”

All of these factors should help Leyden avoid more games like the AT game. I talked with Woolf about how the team will recover from that loss, and shift gears to Hinsdale South.

“We’ve all decided that the losing stops now. It was a tough loss, and it should’ve been a win. The guys know what needs to be done, and we’re doing everything we can to work and make sure it won’t happen again.”

This won’t be easy, as Leyden plays in one of the most competitive basketball conferences in the area. Woolf agreed, and told me where he predicted the Eagles would finish in the WSC Gold this year:

“Yeah, we play in one of the toughest conferences in Illinois. Proviso East, Morton, DGS. There’s never an easy game in this conference, and we’re making sure to give every team a challenge. I’d say Proviso on top, then DGS, then us or Morton.”

Never an easy game indeed, with perennial state contender Proviso East, and powerhouses like DGS and Morton, and throw in the always tough programs like Hinsdale South, Willowbrook, and Addison Trail in the mix, and you’ve got a difficult schedule by any standard.

But with a dynamic team leader, solid role players, a great supporting cast on the bench, and an experienced coaching staff, it will be interesting to see how far this team can go. They can start to bounce back with a win in their conference home opener Friday night at 7:30pm.