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Girls basketball: New connection soaring for South Central

South Central's Jill Rosenbaum passes ball around River Forest's Abbey Bryant first quarter Tuesday evening New Chicago. | Jeffrey D.

South Central's Jill Rosenbaum passes the ball around River Forest's Abbey Bryant in the first quarter Tuesday evening in New Chicago. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:32AM



They first crossed paths a couple years ago on a bus ride to one of South Central’s road trips. They worked together in open gyms and became a little more familiar with one another each time. Both young ladies live and work on family farms, so a stern work ethic comes naturally to them.

South Central junior forward Jill Rosenbaum was a freshman center two years ago, while Riley Popplewell — the team’s freshman center now — was a seventh-grader and one of head coach Rick Budka’s three junior team managers then.

Budka admits he dreamt of what the two might eventually accomplish together in the future.

While the 6-foot Popplewell and the 5-foot-9 Rosenbaum have only been playing together over the summer and through seven games this season, the talented tandem has already proven to be a colossal headache for opponents.

“I’d be lying if I said I knew this was something that was going to happen this quickly, but we just knew once these two girls got together — and with other players to mix in — that it was something that could put South Central basketball on the map for a long time.’’

After opening the season with a loss to Culver, the Satellites (4-3) opened eyes in their next game — a shocking 68-63 road win over Hanover Central.

Popplewell scored 27 points that game. Rosenbaum added 14. Another freshman, Morgan Wright, had 10. The dynamic duo of Rosenbaum and Popplewell has definitely spelled trouble for opponents.

Rosenbaum’s ability to shoot from the outside, or use her quick first step to drive past defenders, coupled with Popplewell’s post moves and overall play, present big-time problems for any defense.

“I like having a choice now, and not always being down,’’ said Rosenbaum, who Budka said has embraced a leadership role with not only Popplewell, but the team. “I love playing forward. I can be down, and then come up. I don’t always have to be in just one spot. I have a choice, so it’s nice.’’

Rosenbaum has really taken Popplewell under her wing.

“For her to take that leadership role of the mother hen with Riley, has really given Riley a lot of confidence,’’ Budka said.

Popplewell loves working with Rosenbaum, whose versatility opens up more opportunities for her inside.

“I think we’ve worked pretty well together so far,’’ said Popplewell, who averages 15 points and 13 rebounds per game, leads the team in steals (20) and ranks second in assists. Popplewell admits Rosenbaum’s experience has helped her develop quicker.

“I think since she played as a freshman, she knows what I’m going through,’’ Popplewell said. “Jill’s always trying to make me better — especially in practices and drills. She pushes me mentally and physically, and she pushes herselft, too. She’s always encouraging to me. She always tells me: ‘You know you can do it.’ ”

Rosenbaum isn’t really surprised they’ve played so well together.

“We played a lot at Culver Academy and Knox this summer and did really well together, and I think that really helped us a lot,’’ Rosenbaum said. “We’ve carried our play over the summer to school, realized what we could do, and got a lot of confidence from it.’’

Popplewell’s strong start this season has really benefitted Rosenbaum, who appears to be playing more relaxed.

“In the past, I would be getting doubled and tripled all the time, and it was hard for me to get the ball,’’ Rosenbaum said. “Now, they’re like: ‘Damn, it’s not going to matter, because she’s still going to score.’ They’ll come out on me now, and I might dump it into her. We work really well together. The only problem is, sometimes we’ll both be fighting for a rebound — that’s happened about 50 times already. I’ve never had that happen before, but it’s nice.’’

Opposing defenses are playing more 2-3 zones in attempt to contain the duo, but to no avail. As long as somebody is scoring outside, it’s a major quandary.

Rosenbaum averages 13 points and 12 rebounds per game, is tied for first on the team in assists and is third in steals. Both players have been so effective, it’s almost scary.

In a loss to John Glenn, both finished with 20 points or more. It marked the first time since 2005 that two South Central players accomplished the feat in the same game.

Those players, Mallory Gorski, and Anna Kammrath, led the Satellites to sectional and regional titles, before losing at semistate.

“We want to win the Round Robin and PCC (Tournament), and we want to be standing on the sectional championship court holding the trophy,’’

Budka said. “Anything can happen in just one game.’’

If Rosenbaum and Popplewell continue to spell double trouble, the Satellites could achieve their goals.

“We plan on getting that Kup,’’ Rosenbaum said. “We just have to keep working hard, do what we do and keep having fun. I think that’s been the biggest difference this year. I’m really excited about this team. I’m excited just going to practice every day. I really look forward to it, enjoy it, and I can’t wait to get there.’’

Popplewell likes the results she’s seeing, too.

“I think we’ve worked pretty well so far together,’’ she said. “Hopefully, it will continue and we’ll get even better, so it helps our team.’’



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