Going into the past season, Waukesha South's Eileen Van Horn knew she was going to be a marked player on the Blackshirts varsity girls basketball team. She came into the year as the best player on the team and one of the best players in the talent-laden Classic 8 Conference.
Every team South played knew if it stopped Van Horn, or at least tried to, that school had a good chance to defeat the Blackshirts.
Week after week, game after game, Van Horn had to battle against the opposing team's top defender. In some games, including ones against conference co-champions Milwaukee Pius and Arrowhead, the 5-foot-8 point guard saw double teams when South had the ball.
"There's no doubt that in our two games against South, we made sure that we did everything we could to slow Eileen down," said Arrowhead coach Heidi Hamilton, who resigned from that post last week. "She's clearly one of the best players in the conference. She's an outstanding point guard. She can shoot the ball, is a great penetrator and passes the ball as good as any guard in the league. We double-teamed her a lot. That tells you how much respect we had for her."
Despite all of the defensive attention, despite the double teams, Van Horn still had a big year for the Blackshirts. She averaged 14.4 points per game and shot an outstanding 77 percent from the free-throw line, making 116 of 151 foul shots.
"Eileen did an outstanding job of keeping her composure and handling all of the defensive pressure she saw all season," said South coach Paul Darling. "A lot of players would have been frustrated with that, but not Eileen. She could have scored a lot more points for us. But she never forced any shots and when she had two players on her, she dished the ball off. She's one of those very, very special players that doesn't come around that often."
Van Horn's hard work and efforts playing alongside a lot of younger kids this year paid big dividends. She was named to the All Conference first team by a vote of the conference coaches and also received honorable mention on the All State Associated Press team.
"It was very rewarding for me to be named to the first team in the Classic 8 Conference this year," Van Horn said. "That's a very big honor. Considering how good the league is and all of the good players that play in the conference, this was a great way for my high school career to end. I had a great experience playing at South."
About one week before her freshman year at South, her family moved into the Mukwonago school district. She could have played at Mukwonago, but instead opted to travel to South every day to compete with her childhood friends and teammates.
"I think we moved to Mukwonago just a couple of days before I started as a freshman at South," Van Horn said. "I never gave it any thought to play at Mukwonago. I knew I wanted to be at South with all of my friends. I always wanted to be a Blackshirt."
Her career at South turned out to be one of the best ones ever. She finished the year as the third-leading scorer in school history, scoring a total of 1,057 points in her four-year varsity career. In that final game, she scored a basket in the fourth quarter to pass another four-year starter, Katy Allen, by a single point to take over the third spot.
Van Horn averaged 8.5 points per game as a freshman starting point guard and then scored 10.6 points per game as a sophomore. Her junior year, she moved that mark to 11.4 tallies per contest. On all three of those teams, she ranked second in scoring behind Allen.
Onward to Marist
But her hoops career did not end with that season-ending regional loss to Nicolet in early March. In fact, Van Horn is getting ready to start the third chapter of her highlysuccessful basketball journey.
After performing well on youth select and AAU teams and carrying that over into high school, Van Horn will play NCAA Division 1 hoops next year at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Several weeks ago Marist, seeded 13th, upset No. 4 seeded Georgia in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament, 76-70. In the second round, Marist narrowly lost to fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure, 66-63. Last year the Red Foxes came within a basket of stunning No. 2 seeded Duke.
"I'm really looking forward to playing college basketball," Van Horn said. "I know that the college game is played at a whole new speed than what I'm used to. Plus, the physicality of the college game is a lot tougher. But I'm looking forward to the challenge. Marist has a very good women's program. I'm anxious to get started."
Van Horn said she will leave for Marist on June 16 and enroll in summer school and begin summer workouts.
Darling said he has no doubt that Van Horn will be successful.
"Eileen is one of those rare players that makes everyone around her a better basketball player," the South coach said. "She's been doing that every year she played for us. She has great knowledge of the game and sees the floor as good as anyone. I think Eileen is going to do very well playing for Marist. The entire South program wishes her luck."