ALGONQUIN – Jack Orndahl never allowed himself to think about quitting.
The Dundee-Crown senior played on varsity for four years. The Chargers did not fare well in the first three of those seasons: 8-20, 3-23 and 4-23.
Quit? That never crossed the 6-foot guard’s mind.
“We had other people quit, and I just didn’t like that,” Orndahl said. “It was less about me and more about the guys that I’d affect if I did quit. That wasn’t even an option.”
Senior Gabe Bergeron, who played three years of varsity ball alongside Orndahl, remembered about 35 freshmen showing up for basketball tryouts when they were newcomers in fall 2014.
“Only three stuck around until the end,” Bergeron said. “That’s something that was really special for the seniors. We knew that we really wanted to turn it around.”
D-C boys basketball coach Lance Huber subbed out the starters in the waning minutes of Wednesday’s 77-48 loss to Jefferson in the IHSA Class 4A Jacobs Sectional semifinals – except for his three seniors.
Orndahl, Bergeron and Rhyne Parreno remained in the game until the final seconds.
When Huber finally subbed them out, they shared handshakes and hugs with Huber and their teammates. Wednesday’s outcome wasn’t what the Chargers hoped for, but it was the culmination of a season that changed the culture around the program.
D-C finished the season with a regional title and 17 wins, more victories than Orndahl won in his previous three seasons combined with the varsity squad.
“Those losing seasons hurt so bad,” Orndahl said. “I think we brought a little bit of swagger back to Dundee-Crown.”
Huber felt each of his seniors left something behind for the younger players on the team to learn from.
“Jack and Gabe really put the team on their shoulders on the floor,” Huber said. “Rhyne Parreno was unbelievably impressive at practice. There’s three or four guys you name off the top of your head who were great players in practice and made the team better. Now we’ve added him to the list.”
Playing AAU basketball during the high school offseason, Bergeron heard his club teammates talking about all of their high school success.
“My first year playing AAU, I was playing with kids from Prospect, Conant, McHenry, Jacobs; they all had winning seasons,” Bergeron said. “Sitting there, talking to them about our seasons, they had regional championships, 15-plus wins, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, we’re sitting at below 10.’
“I know I learned a lot my sophomore year. It was really an eye-opener going into a varsity practice and really just getting my butt kicked.”
Bergeron said Orndahl, already with a year of varsity experience, took him under his wing their sophomore year. Bergeron called Orndahl – who is looking to play in college at the Division III level but is undecided on a school – the hardest worker he’s every played with.
Bergeron felt a different vibe when practices began last fall. It culminated with the school’s first regional title since its 2009 run to the state semifinals.
Entering the regional title against Jacobs last week, Orndahl had never beaten the Golden Eagles. Everyone else on the team had at least one win against Jacobs while playing at the lower levels. But Orndahl, in his four years on varsity, was 0-8 against the Eagles.
After the 45-40 victory over Jacobs on Friday, Orndahl’s teammates handed the regional title plaque to their senior leader.
“They said they did it for me,” Orndahl said.
Even days later, Orndahl couldn’t help but well up with emotion thinking about that moment.
So, no, there never was a thought about quitting – even after 66 losses in three seasons. All of those trials and tribulations led to a senior season worth remembering.
“When you think about quitting, I just tried to remember why I started,” Orndahl said. “All those reasons were much more important than quitting.”