52 | February 16, 2017 | The Mokena Messenger SPORTS mokenamessenger.com Alumni Spotlight Mokena native closing curtain on competitive cheer career Van Gennep, Grand Valley State team gearing up for Nationals Ryan Wallace Freelance Reporter Not long after completing four years of competitive cheer at Lincoln-Way East, Rachael Van Gennep could already sense a void in her life. She’d been competing since she was 5 years old, and the Mokena native wasn’t ready to give it up. “Something was missing,” Van Gennep said. “I couldn’t miss out on a chance to compete in college. … I had to try out.” Now, the 21-year-old is in the stretch run of her competitive cheer career at Grand Valley State University, a Division II school in Michigan, and is looking to go out on a high note. Van Gennep’s final performance will take place April 5-9 at the Division II National Cheerleaders Association Collegiate National Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida. Van Gennep, who is a senior leader for the Grand Valley State team, said there was not a singular moment that made her realize cheering was her calling. Rather, it was the pursuit of meeting personal challenges and the electric feeling she felt after a strong performance that fueled her love. “I’ve just had a passion for cheerleading,” she said. “Watching older people perform, I just knew this is what I wanted to do. I love the energetic atmosphere and being able to go out on the floor and show people what we’ve been working so hard for.” Van Gennep said the sensation upon executing a near flawless routine is like no other. “Your body knows what to do because you’ve built up the muscle memory, and you’re just in cruise control,” she said. “You don’t hold back, and you keep pushing though, and at the end you want to cry because you hit it.” Laying the foundation Van Gennep’s first foray into competitive cheer came at Lincoln-Way East. Her high school teams competed in seven competitions each year, which included conference, sectional and state competitions. Each year, the team would attempt to perfect one routine. While in high school, Van Gennep also competed on a Super All-Star travel squad consisting of cheerleaders from a collection of high schools in Illinois. The Super All-Stars twice competed in a national competition in Orlando. Van Gennep said the program at Lincoln-Way East was just starting to build some traction during her four years. “It wasn’t as elite as it is now,” she said. “But the coaches said we laid the foundation.” Lincoln-Way East won state championships in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Motivated for last shot Upon joining the Grand Valley State competitive cheer team, Van Gennep had to make some adjustments. The first thing she tackled was becoming a better tumbler. “In high school you didn’t have to tumble, and when I started, I was a slow tumbler, and that can’t fly in college,” A young Van Gennep, well before she became a leader for Lincoln-Way East cheer an Grand Valley State, poses for photos with the Mokena Burros cheerleading squad. she said. “I had to constantly push myself until, eventually, it got easier.” She also liked that fact that competitions were drastically different. In high school, there was music and vocalization. But in college, it is all music, and the cheerleader just focuses on the routine. The Lakers cheer squad is in the midst of preparing for the national championships. While the team is working on its routine, the cheerleaders are also keeping themselves busy cheering at basketball games. Grand Valley State has experienced its share of ups and downs in Daytona Beach, but Van Gennep said the team is motivated to bring home a title, especially after a disappointing performance last year. “We’re had a mixture of both,” she said about the team’s finishes. “My freshman year, I think we were just excited to be there. Our second year, we had to change our whole routine, and it worked out for the better. “Last year was horrible. We had felt we could win, it was all in our hands, and we choked on the floor. Honestly, we are so ready for this year. We were disappointed, and last year’s routine still stings, but we’re ready to bring back a title at Nationals. We’re working hard, and we have great leaders.” As one of the senior leaders, Van Gennep said her role is to be there for teammates whenever needed and to run the practices. “We’re there to motivate because we all want what’s Rachael Van Gennep, a Mokena native and Lincoln-Way East graduate, goes through her routine with her Grand Valley State cheer teammates. Photos Submitted best for the team.” Grand Valley State coach Brandy Skantze said Van Gennep is exactly the kind of competitor her program wants. “Rachael is a huge leader on our team,” Skantze said. “A motivator both verbally and by example, and she is always willing to do extra reps and stay in the gym longer. She really pushes her teammates to do better. “She is a great asset to our program, and because of her and a few other girls, we’ve started looking to the Chicago, Illinois, area as far as recruiting goes because we’ve had such amazing athletes from that area.” Van Gennep said the entire experience at Grand Valley State has been beyond enriching. While her days as a competitor are winding down, she knows the people she has around her aren’t going anywhere. “I can honestly say because of this experience I’m going to come away with my best friends,” she said. “We get along so well and we hang out together everywhere. We all share the same passion, but yet we’re all so different. I think that’s why it works.” Van Gennep said she’s on track to graduate next fall with a degree in hospitality and tourism, with a specialty in meeting and events management. As for her future in competitive cheer, she’s not closing the door entirely. “This is it, unless I plan to get into coaching,” she said. “And that all depends on where I am and what I’m doing.”
mokenamessenger.com SPORTS the Mokena Messenger | February 16, 2017 | 53 Boys Basketball Robinson returns to avenge previous Andrew loss Central junior’s scoring, passing help Knights win Frank Gogola Freelance Reporter Lincoln-Way Central’s Chris Robinson was determined to make his presence felt this time. When Central and Andrew played earlier this season, the junior guard missed the game because of a family issue. The Knights lost by double digits. In the rematch, he scored or assisted on 30 points to help Central beat Andrew, 67-58, on Feb. 7 in New Lenox. Central (7-15, 5-4) held Andrew (12-10, 4-4) to fewer made 3-pointers and free-throw attempts in the rematch, and hit its own free throws down the stretch to seal the win. “It was like I was running off adrenaline [today] because I knew my team needed me last game,” Robinson said. “I felt like I let them down last game, so I had to come through for them this game.” Robinson scored a teamhigh 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting after missing his first three shots. He assisted on five baskets after coming in averaging one assist per game. He added two steals. Andrew’s Joey Krutilla scored a game-high 24 points, but the Central defense was improved from the first meeting – a 79-65 Andrew win on Dec. 13 in Tinley Park. Andrew was 6-of-14 on 3-pointers after making double digits the first game. Both teams made 14 free throws in the rematch – the Knights had eight in the final 64 seconds – after Andrew made 23 in the first meeting to Central’s 11 attempts. “We did what we needed to do to win the game, and that was to keep them off the 3-point line and the freethrow line and make them score 2-pointers,” Central coach Bob Curran said. In the rematch, Andrew was without Evan Yerkes, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard who had been averaging 12 points per game and shooting 50 percent on 3-pointers. Yerkes broke his foot in January and is likely done for the season, according to Andrew coach David Wilson. “He really spread the offense for us,” Wilson said. “His basketball IQ is off the charts. Injuries are not an excuse because everybody deals with them, but he’s a tough one to play without.” His loss means other players have had to and will need to step up if the Thunderbolts want to reach their goal of winning a regional championship. Against Central, it was Troy Murphy and Carson Meter, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively. Mike DeHaan had six points and seven rebounds. Central’s postseason outlook has been slowly brightening after rematch wins over Lincoln-Way West and Andrew. Robinson’s play has improved as of late and will be key heading into the postseason. He came off the bench in six of the first eight games and has started in every game since missing the first game against Andrew. “The last five games, he’s played really well,” Curran said. “We’ve been talking about him being a better assist guy. We know he can score the basketball, but he’s got to get others involved.” He did that early against Andrew, dishing out assists on three consecutive possessions. Andrew led 12-11 after one quarter with nine points from Krutilla. After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Robinson scored four in the second quarter, including a midrange jumper in the closing seconds of the second, as Central led 24-23 at the half. He added eight in the third quarter, and the Knights led 43-38 heading into the fourth. Robinson hit a 3-pointer and a jumper on back-toback possessions to give Central its biggest lead of the game, 48-41, with 6:32 to play. Andrew responded with an 8-0 run with scores from four players to take a 49-48 lead, its first since 23-22 late in the second quarter. Not to be outdone, Central responded with a 9-0 run started by a 3-pointer by Aaron Michalak (12 points). Alex Kogut blocked a Krutilla layup, which led to an Andrew inbound pass – thrown haphazardly into the backcourt – that Robinson stole. He grabbed the ball and quickly shot from seemingly too close under the basket, but the ball went in after bouncing around the rim. “I thought it was going out,” Robinson said. “I was like, ‘No!’” “That’s absolutely huge because you give a team that didn’t have momentum, you give them momentum,” Wilson said. Robinson assisted on two layups by Joe DiNaso (8 points), and Central led 59-53 when Robinson missed the front-end of a 1-and-1. The Thunderbolts rebounded, and Krutilla hit a 3-pointer to pull them within 59-56 with 1:10 to play. From there, Central made 8-of-10 free throws, most of which came from intentional fouls by Andrew, to seal the game. Bryan Ross scored nine points for Central. Andrew Hancock chipped in seven with two baskets coming off two slick post moves in the first quarter. Lincoln-Way Central’s Brian Ponton (left) and Andrew Hancock position themselves for a rebound Feb. 7 during a game against Andrew in New Lenox. Photos by James Sanchez/22nd Century Media Guard Bryan Ross takes the ball up court to start a fastbreak.