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Friday, 31 January 2014 12:08

Hononegah grads have unbreakable bond on the basketball court

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STATELINE NEWS -- It doesn’t matter whether they’re on or off the basketball court. Erin Ryczek and Lindsay Lengjak are like proverbial peas in a pod.

The Hononegah High School graduates, albeit a year apart, have played hoops together since middle school and share a special bond as the two leading scorers at Rockford University.

They played together with the Indians and at Rock Valley College, also in Rockford, before  joining the Regents.

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"We respect each other and the game, which is why we have been such great teammates and friends over the years," Ryczek said. "Lindsay’s dedication, hardworking personality and passion for the game are what make her such an amazing player and person. ... During her year off from basketball, she realized she wanted to be back home and get back on the court.

She had told me she was transferring to Rockford University, and I already had planned my transfer; it is crazy how great minds think alike."

Lengjak agreed that coming back to Winnebago County was the best choice on all fronts.

"After all of these years of playing together, we have formed this bond that is almost indescribable," Lengjak said. "We are not just teammates anymore; she is my best friend."

That homecoming has helped improve their games and friendship, and their prep and collegiate programs have benefitted from their talents and the many intangibles they offer.

They earned regional titles at Hononegah, Ryczek won a national junior college crown at Rock Valley and both are trying to prepare RU for a postseason push. Through 18 games, Lengjak led the Regents with 14.2 points per game, while Ryczek was next at 12.0 after leading the team last year (11.1).

They still are working to be better players during the final weeks of their collegiate careers.

"You always want to keep improving," said Ryczek, who was a first team all-regional pick and NJCAA All-American her second year at Rock Valley. "I am still working hard to make it as far as we possibly can this year. Overall, I am extremely proud of my college career. I want to coach someday, so I have tried to take in as much as I possibly can from my coaches. I hope to have the same impact on my future players that they have had on me."

"I strive to be a person that my teammates can count on," Lengjak said. "Every team I’ve been a part of I’ve strived to set an example to the younger girls and show them the ropes.

"After every year of playing I have felt myself grow stronger within this sport," Lengjak added. "I honestly can say this is the best year (statistically) that I have ever had. I have grown offensively and defensively … I am in the top 10 for scoring and rebounding in the conference. But no player is ever happy or satisfied with where they are at, but if I had to choose one area I need to improve it would be ball handling. I can handle the ball just fine in the paint, but don’t ever expect me to be a guard because it would not be pretty."

It may not be pretty, but Lengjak and Ryczek are quick to credit others for where they are athletically.

"We learned the fundamentals back in high school and our love and respect for this game were taught to us early thanks to coaches Randy Weibel and Matt Simpson," Lengjak said. "Coach (Jessica) Stanek tried to recruit me right out of high school, so immediately after deciding I was transferring out of Chicago I called her to talk about the possibility of playing. She got me in right away for a visit and the next thing I knew I was doing preseason workouts with my new team. My coaches from high school and my coach from Rock Valley, Misty Opat, are the keys to me transitioning into the RU program. They were strict and ran tight programs, which is essential at any level. They gave me the tools to be the player I am and I had complete confidence walking onto the RU campus knowing everything I had learned from them."

Ryczek also said Opat helped her blossom on and off the court.

"Rock Valley was the best experience of my basketball career," Ryczek said. "Coach Opat not only pushed me as a player but as an individual. She taught me to never give up, and because of her passion for the game, for her players and for our success, I am who I am today. Winning nationals was the most incredible night of my life and will forever be in my heart."

But it’s their individual drive  that sets them apart and brings them together.

"Lindsay constantly pushes her teammates to their greatest potential," Ryczek said. "If people know her personally, they know her loud voice and outgoing personality carries for miles, which makes her even more of a leader. She is a good role model for anyone. Playing with each other just adds that much more intensity."

Lengjak agreed.

"We have what some teammates spend all season trying to achieve -- trust," Lengjak said. "We have had it since high school and it has only gotten stronger since."

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