MILFORD — For most of her life, Cissna Park junior Brooklyn Stadeli has been better known as “the twins’ sister,” growing up the younger sister of former Timberwolves boys basketball stars and 2019 graduates Christian and Julian Stadeli.
But the junior outside hitter has spent the past three seasons making a name for herself, most recently with her and her team’s performance in Monday’s IHSA Class 1A Milford Sectional semifinals.
Stadeli had eight kills — tied with Josie Neukomm for a team-high — to go along with six aces to help lead the Timberwolves past Aqsa 2-0 (25-7, 25-2) and into Wednesday’s sectional championship game.
“I started as a freshman and played varsity but I was kind of timid,” Stadeli said. “I’ve grown to step into a role as a leader and have started to understand the game more and where to hit.
“... It’s weird — I’ve always been referred to as ‘the twins’ sister,’ but it’s really nice stepping into that,” she continued. “It’s not something I really expected, but it’s definitely welcome.”
The Timberwolves (30-6) advanced to their first sectional championship since the 2017-18 school year by relying on not just their veterans such as Stadeli but their trio of freshmen starters — Neukomm, Addison Lucht and Sophie Duis.
Timberwolves coach Josh Landon said while he and the veterans on the team knew the freshmen would provide a spark, he didn’t expect that spark to catch fire the way it has so quickly.
“They’re resilient, they’re a good group that likes to go out and compete and they want to compete at a high level,” Landon said. “We knew the youth was coming to fill some of those gaps, but I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t think it was going to happen as quickly as they were able to adapt to high school speed and elevate their game.
“Attribute that to the other girls [who] are above them. … That’s been a great way to see the cohesiveness of this group come together.”
After the Timberwolves cruised to a 25-7 win in the first, one of those freshman, Duis, began the second set at the service line and stayed there until the Timberwolves had racked up the first 22 points of the second set.
It was after that 22-0 run that Duis led the team on that Landon and his team saw an example of what high school sports offer outside of final scores. Playing Aqsa, an Islamic Day School located in the Chicago-adjacent village of Bridgeview, both programs were provided the unique opportunity of meeting peers of theirs from different cultures and backgrounds.
And when the Legends joined the Cissna Park faithful in applauding Duis at the end of the 22-0 run she helped lead, Landon said his girls got to see that experience extend even further.
“We said no matter what happens we’re going to respect our opponent, and I think the girls did that,” Landon said. “It was just neat to have that opportunity to share that experience together.
“After Sophie rattled off 22 points straight and they got the point, I saw our fans cheering and some of their girls joining in cheering for her and for what she did, and that showed they were there for the sportsmanship aspect as well” he added. “It was just all-in-all a great experience.”
Grant Park leans on seniors to advance to sectional finals
While Cissna Park has relied on its young newcomers to immediately immerse themselves, the trip to the round of 16 for Grant Park has been quite the opposite.
Leaning on a group of eight experienced seniors, including four-year starters Delaney Panozzo and Brooke Veldhuizen, the Dragons (26-10) kept momentum from last week’s thrilling 2-1 upset of Milford in the Grant Park Regional championship to start strong and finish off Walther Christian 2-0 (25-12, 25-17) to defeat their second straight No. 1 seed and advance to Wednesday’s championship.
Dragons coach Lee Ellen Palan, who returned to coaching for the first time in more than 20 years after winning six straight regionals at Herscher from 1995-2000, said she wasn’t quite sure how things would go when she took over this fall, but her experienced group has been more than she could have asked for.
“I didn’t know going into this what I would get; I’m an old lady and didn’t know how they’d respond,” Palan said. “I tried to motivate them, be crazy, be mom, do team bonding, and they play their hearts out, and that’s all I can ask for.
“They’ve worked hard in every single practice and done everything I’ve asked them to do, more than I could imagine.”
While Palan was quick to credit her players, Veldhuizen, who had a team-high 12 kills, was just as quick to return that credit right back to Palan.
“Her intensity is amazing — her drive is far greater than any of ours,” Veldhuizen said. “That pushes all of us.”
As often has been the case during the past four years, Veldhuizen and Panozzo provided most of the pop above the net, as Panozzo added eight kills and three blocks.
But the experience extends much further than the dynamic duo, as eight seniors fill the Grant Park roster. Several of those seniors had notable effects, with Shelby McKinstry and Paige Tavoletti each recording three aces and Tavoletti adding 11 assists to Veldhuzien’s and Panozzo’s contributions.
Panozzo credited their wealth of experience together that goes back to middle school, where they won an IESA Regional as eighth-graders, for their solid play down the stretch.
“Most of us are seniors and have been playing together for like seven years, so that’s part of it,” Panozzo said. “And it’s such a small school, so we always see each other and have a lot of chemistry.”
The Dragons now will bring their experience — both on the court and on the sidelines — to Wednesday’s sectional championship.
“I have eight seniors and we’re big, strong and old, so now’s the time,” Palan said. “... Not that we’ve been there before, but they’ve been through a lot and those experiences have made them strong.”
The Dragons and Timberwolves will meet in Milford at 6 p.m. Wednesday for the sectional championship.