Coach: Madness of March hitting strong at Oakton College
Here they go again.
The run-and-gun, full-court pressing, never-heard-of-"slow down basketball" Oakton College women's team is making another run at the National Junior College Division II finals, and now they are but one step away.
Their head coach is Chicago police officer Tony Siriscevich. And folks, the coach might as well write his own team a ticket for speeding.
They go full blast from starting whistle to end, leaving the fans who have been just sitting and watching for two hours exhausted and feeling like they got a cardiovascular workout themselves. It is that fast-paced.
That is their style, and it has been for the past couple of years.
How fast and how good are they? They lead the junior college nation in scoring at 86 points per game, scoring more than 100 multiple times! They also lead the nation in steals with 19 a game. That's a month's worth of steals for most teams, but this all-in, full-court-pressing Owls squad cranks those numbers out on a regular basis.
Some more stats just for kicks: They are third in the nation in rebounds and fourth in blocks, and they also lead the entire junior college country in assists per game with 24! These fifteen players led by Officer Siriscevich fill up the stat sheet like Charles Barkley fills up at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Hard to stuff any more in, but how about this one? Maybe the most amazing stat of all for this powerhouse ballclub is that despite being the leading-scoring team in the country, they shoot the fewest 3-pointers of just about any team around. Let that one sink in. It's almost unheard of in today's basketball at any level, where the 3-pointer is a vital part the game, particularly with high-scoring teams.
But not this Oakton team; they go about things much differently.
"We get most of our scoring off steals defensively and in transition," says their high-energy coach. "We play nearly 15 players every game, and our pressing style allows us to get lots of layups and close-to-the-basket scores. We don't have to depend on the 3 all that much."
The unique style works. Oakton's record this year is 28-4. They took second in the Skyway Conference behind only Morton College, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA DII.
The March Madness tournament for the Owls has been successful so far. They won their first-round game, defeating Waubonsee 81-59, and then notched a thrilling second-round victory over Black Hawk College from Moline, 73-64.
One more win and the mighty Owls would head to Port Huron, Michigan, for the national finals -- a step the program has never achieved in the past.
But here comes the rub. In order to get there, they have to get past old nemesis and archrival Bryant and Stratton College from Milwaukee. Last year they were knocked out of the tournament by the B&S gang by the rude score of 100-56. A complete shellacking. Many of the players are back from that thrashing a year ago and remember it well.
"Oh yeah," says Siriscevich. "Our girls are quite aware of that game from last year. They remember. But this year we have a lot of players who have been through it before. Last year they were freshmen and the tournament was an all-new kind of experience for them. But this year our kids have more confidence, and more veteran leadership that hopefully will allow us to compete against them much better."
To that note, the Oakton squad played their friends from Milwaukee earlier in the season and lost, but only by a score of 71-64 -- a far cry from last year's humiliation.
"And we had some players injured for that game," Siriscevich adds. "Two of our starters were out. We are healthy now for the first time in awhile, with all of our players ready to go full tilt."
The team is comprised of many players from our local schools. Nessa Walsh from St. Joseph, Madison Dorband from Resurrection, Niyah Udoiwood from Geneva, Rimata Halabi from Maine East, Alex Ponte from Glenbrook North, Meryam Belbaz from Niles North, Jocelyn Muenster from East Leyden, Kamila Gajkowska from Conant, Lashylah Bowen from Evanston, Mia Buniao from Maine West, Lanessa Williams from Taft, Jade Thomas from Maine West, Macey Gandee from Pleasant Plains, Wisconsin, and Ellie Reynolds from Kenosha.
And then there is the player all the way from beautiful Hanna, Wyoming -- Amy Campbell, one of the stars and leaders of this year's team and back from last year.
How did Campbell end up making the near cross-country trip?
"We put a kind of random ad in the paper last year looking for interested players," Siriscevich says. "Amy saw it, contacted us and decided to come all the way to Chicago to play her basketball for Oakton. We're kind of glad she did!"
All the players contribute. They all play. Substitutions come fast and furious and opposing teams get tired just watching all the changing on the fly.
It is a truly unique style, but one that Coach believes in and one that obviously has served the program well.
Siriscevich, took over as head coach in the middle of the pandemic. The Oakton women's basketball program at that point had been shut down for three years, so Siriscevich and assistant coach Denise McCance basically had to raise it up from the dead.
No speeding tickets were given out, just a lot of hard, laborious work contacting local schools and coaches to get the word out about the program. It took awhile, but now after back-to-back 20-win seasons, the word is definitely out: The Owls program is one of the best in the area and ready to make a statement on the national scene.
But first come their old friends from Bryant and Stratton. The game will be played at noon Saturday, March 11, at Rock Valley College in Rockford. The winner goes to Michigan for the nationals.
The Owls, you can be sure, will be ready. And considering Oakton's all-out, all-game frenetic style, the Bryant and Stratton players best get plenty of rest.
Whatever happens, it should be a fun one.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email email@example.com.