Last year at this time, Makenzie Silvey and Abby Brockmeyer were just getting ready for the beginning of the IHSA girls basketball playoffs.
Silvey, a senior guard, was helping an undefeated Edwardsville High School club begin a run to the Class 4A state championship game. Brockmeyer, a senior forward for Litchfield High School, was attempting to lead her school to just its fifth regional title in the last 16 years. Edwardsville finished 32-1, losing to Geneva in the state title game. Litchfield went 25-4, bowing out in the regionals.
Silvey (15 points) and Brockmeyer (nine) combined for 24 of SIU's 62 points in Sunday's nine-point win over Bradley at SIU Arena. Silvey played 30 minutes, Brockmeyer went 31, and senior forward Kylie Giebelhausen played 39 of 40.
"We don't care about Kylie's minutes," SIU coach Cindy Stein said. "It's her last go-around."
Indeed, Giebelhausen is averaging an astonishing 37.5 minutes a game for the 13-11 Salukis, who enter this week two games out of second place in the Missouri Valley Conference. In addition to being two of their best players, the two freshmen are logging some heavy minutes. The 5-foot-11 Silvey (27.7 minutes a game) is the Valley's 17th-best scorer at 10.3 points per game. Brockmeyer, a 6-1 freshman forward, is tied for 19th at 10.1 points per game and averaging 28.8 minutes a game.
Brockmeyer is also the Valley's third-best rebounder at 7.2 a game.
With just under a month to go before the Valley tournament in Moline, neither of them seem to be slowing down at a time typical freshmen do.
"It's just the grind of a long season, and you really just have to have mental toughness," Silvey said.
"We just gotta get through it," Brockmeyer added.
Stein said they could hit the typical freshman lull between now and March 8, when the Valley Tournament begins, but it doesn't appear to be coming any time soon. Silvey had two 30-win seasons in her final three years, and Brockmeyer played basketball, softball and golf in high school.
"Our freshmen have discussed the fact that 'Wow, this is long.' They're used to being in tournaments now, so I think that does have an effect, but I think one thing that we loved about 'em in recruiting that still holds today, was that they love basketball," Stein said. "They love playing basketball."
This is why you recruit winners at the prep level, and at the junior college level. Sure, there's the teamwork theory, where players that win do whatever it takes to do so, whether it's score less points, make the extra pass, or grab the big rebound. One thing that gets overlooked is the drive to finish off a season, how players that compete deep into the postseason know better than others how the games get more important as you go.
They also learn how to take care of their bodies, space out their workouts, and balance how to compete like crazy in the short term with a long-term approach. Silvey and Brockmeyer may fight over the Valley's Freshman of the Year Award by the middle of March. Here's hoping their best is still yet to come this season.