Rochelle won only one game in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East Division last year.
Not only did the Hubs reach the IHSA Class 4A playoffs, they won a playoff game.
With five of the division’s six teams making the postseason last year, the league was a tough one. Even with Rochelle leaving the East Division for the West this year, coaches still expect the East to be even tougher.
“Kaneland only has one loss since we started this conference (in 2009), and we were fortunate enough to get them,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “Tom (Fedderly, Kaneland coach) does a really good job. DeKalb is going to be really good. Morris will be good. Top to bottom, it’s going to be as good as it’s ever been. You can finish fifth and have a really good team in the league this year.”
DeKalb finished 2-7 two years ago but improved to 5-5 last year, taking fourth in the conference. Behind running back Dre Brown, who has committed to play at Illinois next year, the Barbs hope instead of being in the middle of the pack with Yorkville and Rochelle, they will be in the conversation with Sycamore and Kaneland for the league title.
“It’s going to be tough, but it’s basically up for grabs,” Barbs senior linebacker Jake Kuykendall said. “We’re working hard. We want it.”
The league hasn’t always had much parity. In fact, Kaneland dominated it from the inception of the NI Big 12 East until last year, going since 2009 without losing a regular-season game until the Spartans beat them. That launched Sycamore on a run into the state semifinals. Kaneland made the second round of the postseason, as did Rochelle. Yorkville and DeKalb each were one-and-done.
With Kaneland’s historical dominance, and Sycamore’s dominance last year, Brown said all it shows is that any year can belong to any team.
“It doesn’t matter what you did last year. It’s about what you’re going to do now,” Brown said. “We don’t really look at their past success. We know they work hard, and we work hard, too.”
Matt Weckler, in his second year as coach at DeKalb, said the Barbs are ready to be considered contenders in the division.
“I think we have the opportunity to do so if we continue to improve week in and week out and stay healthy,” Weckler said. “On paper, I like the guys we have and the matchups versus the other teams in the conference. But at the same time, we talk about the respect factors for these other teams. Kanlenad keeps reloading, Sycamore keeps getting better and Yorkville is right there all the time. ... It’s going to be tough, but we have to go in thinking we’re going to have the opportunity to win.”
Fedderly said the league will be really compeitive, and that anyone can beat anyone on any given night – a favorite line of coaches. He was asked whether that phrase carried more meaning for the division this year – if it truly is that balanced.
“It really is. It’s really even,” Fedderly said. “There’s a lot of really good coaches and I think anybody can beat anybody.”