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Monday, January 30, 2023

Benet’s winning tradition under Gene Heidkamp continuing

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The names may change at Benet, but the results certainly haven’t.

If people haven’t gotten the memo nine years into Gene Heidkamp’s tenure at the helm of the Redwings’ basketball program, they haven’t been paying attention.

Eight straight 20-win seasons have followed up the one losing season – a 12-15 year in 2008-09 – Heidkamp has had in Lisle.

Danny Sobolewski, James Dockery and Jason Malonga may have graduated from last season’s program-record 31-win team, but don’t tell that to senior guard Jack Nolan.

Benet junior guard Jack Nolan looks on during the Class 4A state title game against Curie on March 19, 2016.

“We definitely did lose a lot with Dock and Jason and Sobo all graduating,” Nolan said. “Those were three tremendous players who helped us a ton last year get to where we wanted to be. But I think coming into this year everyone in our locker room knew that we had the pieces and camaraderie to have a good team this year.”

Through 27 games, the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Nolan was averaging 17.5 points and 3.1 rebounds while getting plenty of help.

Senior forward Liam Lyman had been following Nolan’s lead to the tune of 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds heading into their Feb. 22 regular-season finale.

Nolan and Lyman have combined to get their fair share of the limelight, but Justin Enochs also brought vast experience from last year’s run to the Class 4A state title game.

“I think their experience certainly helps,” Heidkamp said of the Nolan, Lyman and Enochs trio. “Now, they’re in different roles this year, so that takes some time to adjust to that transition. But I think the fact that they played in the biggest games that are possible to play in certainly helps.

“This year has been no different, as far as the number of big games that they’ve played in. It just seems every week we’ve had a big game, so their experience level in regards to playing in big games and playing against good opponents is probably as high as it can be.“

Benet junior forward Liam Lyman attempts a shot against Simeon in a Class 4A state semifinal on March 18, 2016.

As Benet entered the postseason as a top-three seed for the seventh time since 2009-10, it had – as of Feb. 22 – racked up 203 victories since 2009-10.

Three sectional titles, a sectional final trip in 2012-13 and the two trips to Peoria in 2013-14 and 2015-16 highlight that 203-win tote.

But what the Nolan, Lyman and Enochs-led group had done in getting to the program back to the 20-win plateau yet again stood out because of the competition.

“We’re pleased with the accomplishment this year,” Heidkamp said. “Winning 20 games is always special and this year, we really had to earn it. Our schedule’s very, very difficult and I thought our kids did a good job of getting through that difficult schedule and playing well.

“We had some heartbreaking losses and some really close wins, so at the end it probably all balanced out. But to win 20 games – it’s nice this year because of how hard we had to work to get there.”

The past eight years have seen rosters littered with names like David Sobolewski, Frank Kaminsky, Pat McInerney and Sean O’Mara – just to name a few.

However it may be the Colin Bonnetts, Jack Nolans and Liam Lymans of the world that signify best what Benet basketball under Heidkamp has been about.

The Redwings’ bench watches during the Class 4A state title game against Curie on March 19, 2016.

Regardless of whether or not a third trip in four years to Bradley’s Carver Arena comes their way this March, standards don’t figure to change much.

“We have a lot of potential and I don’t think it’d be a shock for that to happen,” Nolan said of getting back to Peoria. “But I do think winning in March is one of the most difficult things in all of high school basketball. So for the pieces to come together for us and everything to work out – it’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

Blake Baumgartner
Blake Baumgartner
Raised in Naperville, Blake Baumgartner is a 2001 Naperville Central alumnus and a 2005 graduate of Michigan State's School of Journalism. Since March 2010, he has covered football, boys' basketball and baseball for both The Naperville Sun and Positively Naperville. Follow him on Twitter @BFBaumgartner.

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