As the Friars’ young, female hoopers get healthy and march toward maturity, a Hall of Famer — with 40+ years of coaching experience — smiles at their timing.
By Mark Vruno
Chalk up another 20-win regular season for Fenwick girls’ basketball Head Coach Dave Power. But he says his young team (23-8, 3-3 in the GCAC) is not finished. In fact, the once injury-plagued Friars finally may be gaining momentum heading into post-season play.
Two weeks ago “marked the first game all season where we had every player fully healthy,” reports alumna and Assistant Coach Erin Power ’07, Dave’s daughter and once a stellar point guard for the Friars. “Sheila Hogan returned from an ACL [rehab]. Lily Reardon was out for several weeks with a separated shoulder. Mia [Caccitolo] had her knee injury. Mira [Schwanke] and Audrey [Hinrichs] both were out with ankle injuries at certain points. Katie Schneider was out for a few games with the flu.”
While their head coach isn’t in the habit of making excuses, he can confirm the busier-than-normal athletic training room traffic. “We’ve had at least nine players out for something,” a frustrated, elder Power says, lamenting that his squad lost games last month that they probably would have won at full strength. “We’ve had about 15 different starting line-ups this season. It’s hard to prepare for opponents when key, position players are out,” he explains, “be they rebounders or shooters.”
The strength of Fenwick’s sometimes-daunting schedule did not help matters. During a particularly difficult stretch in January – one that Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 referred to as “the gauntlet” — Fenwick lost badly to Montini and then dropped consecutive games to four more Catholic-school rivals: St. Ignatius, Benet (which was close), Mother McAuley and Marist.
The Powers know, as experienced coaches do, that they can control only certain factors when it comes to their teams. Injuries, while preventable, are not necessarily controllable. Age is another element out of their control. Make no mistake: the Friars are young (five sophomores and four juniors). However, the youth is buoyed by strong leadership from upper-classwomen, Dave Power points out, giving a nod to his quartet of seniors, who all are guards: Hogan, Stephanie Morella, Reardon and Schneider.
Like most coaches, the Power duo dislikes distractions. But how do good Catholics say “no” to the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago? When Cardinal Blase Cupich informed Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. last Thursday that he’d like to attend the next evening’s girls basketball game, the scramble began! But Power really didn’t mind. His Eminence’s presence was icing on the cake for the Friars’ Senior Night. The Cardinal sat on both sides of the bleachers, cheering for the Catholics. Our team was victorious, 58-50, over the Carmel Corsairs of Mundelein (18-8, 3-3).
Another welcome distraction came this past Tuesday night, as Power’s girls capped a four-game winning streak by defeating top-ranked Evanston (20-4, 9-0) in their regular-season finale. A thrilling, half-court buzzer-beater by 6’0″ forward Elise Heneghan (24 pts.), one of the sophomores, sealed the deal: 45-43 in favor of the Friars.
The Wildkits fourth-year head coach is Fenwick alumna and All-Stater Brittany Johnson ’05 (Chicago). Johnson, who played at Boston College, averaged 18 points per game, six rebounds and five steals as a senior for the Friars. “I’m so proud of Britt,” Power beams. “She had a great career at BC and got her master’s degree. Hers is a great success story!”
In a pre-game ceremony, after Power hugged his former-player-turned-opposing-coach, the school officially named the locker room in its Fieldhouse Gym after him. Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. was in Florida visiting with alumni, but he sent a statement from afar: “It is a privilege to honor Coach Power’s commitment to our community with this dedication, along with a corresponding, generous gift of $500,000. The donor family wishes to remain anonymous, but their gesture truly is heartfelt.” (Read more.)
In Father Peddicord’s stead, President Emeritus Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 stepped onto the Fenwick hardwood, talking about Dave Power’s legacy and their friendship, which now spans three decades. AD Thies also spoke, sharing stories about how Power has made an impact on his life and continued to pursue excellence relentlessly. “Coach Power [has] impacted so many lives, so many who have gone on to be successful in life,” Thies said.
Of The Power Locker Room naming and half-million-dollar donation, the coach himself says: “The generosity of this person – and I really don’t know who it is – is beyond overwhelming. I’m blown away that someone would be so generous – not for me, but for all the success the program has had; all the wonderful coaches and girls who’ve played for me … all their successes. I think of it as a dedication to them. It’s a great thing for Fenwick!”
One of the coaches sharing Power’s legacy is his late brother, Bill, who passed away in 2018. Another faithful assistant is Dale Heidloff, a science teacher at Fenwick who also is the head coach of the girls’ track team and an assistant coach for boy’s golf. “When I first started coaching with Dave 20 years ago, I had a much different view on the game of basketball,” Coach Heidloff shares. “I always believed strongly in playing defense, but Coach Power’s philosophy has always been to just ‘score more points than the other team.’ This simple philosophy has won him nearly 1,000 games, so I’ve learned to trust the methods, the madness and the magic of Coach Power.
“Beyond the X’s and O’s, however, I’ve been able to share unforgettable memories with a man who has become like a brother to me,” Heidloff continues. “We have both been fortunate enough to share in winning a state championship with our daughters [Kristin ’04 in 2001 and Erin in 2007] and have had the opportunity to coach the next generation of Friars alongside our daughters. His coaching legacy speaks for itself, but his true legacy is the impact he has had on his players and coaches, the fierce loyalty he has towards those he cares about, and his unwavering commitment to the Fenwick community.”
Power acknowledges that coaching with daughter, Erin, at his side these past four years has been quite special. He adds that her title of assistant coach really is a disservice. “Erin’s role goes way beyond that,” he says. “She can relate to the young girls and is the definition of a role model: strong, intelligent and demanding. She demonstrates [techniques] in practice on the court, which I can’t do so well anymore. Plus, she knows how to do all that social media stuff!” he laughs.
When she played in high school, Ms. Power had “the highest basketball IQ of any player I had seen,” reports her father/coach. Back then, the 6’1” point guard was known by teammates as “Little Magic,” a nod to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “She was an unselfish player who would pass, steal, deflect and block shots,” he adds. “Erin didn’t care that much about scoring herself, but she did all those things that control the outcome in your favor.”
Erin went on to play and study at the University of Pennsylvania, “where she had a great college coach and a great Ivy League career,” says her proud papa. She also earned a Master’s in social work (MSW) from Penn and now is the senior class social worker at Fenwick, in addition to teaching AP psychology classes.
Head Coach Power will hit the 1,000-win milestone next season. Already, he is the second-winningest girls’ basketball coach in Illinois history, behind Chicago Marshall’s Dorothy Gaters, who retired in 2019 with 1,133 career victories. (Ahead of them on the boys’ side is the late Gene Pingatore, St. Joseph/Westchester legend.) “Let’s talk about that next year,” he urges, trying to maintain focus.
Power scoffs at the notion that he is a basketball high school coaching legend, but he is. In the late 1970s, he was one of the first male coaches of girls’ hoops. His Chicago Power AAU/club team has risen to power (pun intended) over the decades. “I’m not even a legend in my own mind,” he insists. “What is legendary is what my teams accomplished in the large-school division. It’s a lot different today.”
As for this season, he has found the proverbial silver lining within the injury/illness cloud: Because of his team’s earlier misfortunes, “We now can depend on just about anyone for a positive contribution,” he says, pointing to his deep bench. “We are coming together. It takes a while. At Christmas-time, we played more top-ranked teams than anyone else in the state.” In other words, his young team is seasoned and battle-tested.
“Are you anticipating a late-season, playoff run, Coach,” we asked? He didn’t speak. A smile and the glint of Power’s eyes were his affirmative answer. The IHSA will announce 3A pairings this Friday, and regional action begins the week of February 17th.