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Metea Valley’s Alex Danehl making most of role

Metea Valley senior Alex Danehl is one of those players whom basketball coaches like to call program guys.

They’re the kids whose names don’t show up on a varsity roster until late in their careers, and when they do, they rarely get any notoriety.

Danehl spent last season on Metea Valley’s junior varsity team but didn’t lose hope that he’d get varsity playing time one day. He has done that and more, earning the starting spot at small forward.

“At the start of the season, I was very, very excited,” Danehl said. “I was ready to work. I trusted all the work I put in in the offseason and open gyms.

“It was just a next-man-up mentality. I was given a spot, and I can’t let it slip through my hands.”

Danehl kept a firm grasp on his starting spot and has played a vital if rarely noticed role while helping the Mustangs win 19 games. That didn’t surprise junior forward Jake Nosek, Danehl’s practice partner in countless workouts before and during the season.

“He’s always been an extremely hard worker,” Nosek said. “All of last year he was a JV guy, but he never complained. He put in the work, and he was the leader of that group.”

Nosek said he and Danehl are close, which led to an easy rapport.

“We were in the gym all summer long,” Nosek said. “We worked out every day two times a day, so he earned that role.”

Metea Valley's Alex Danehl (20) looks to pass from the baseline as Naperville Central's Connor Sands (24) defends during a game in Aurora on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.(Jon Cunningham for the Naperville Sun)
Metea Valley’s Alex Danehl (20) looks to pass from the baseline as Naperville Central’s Connor Sands (24) defends during a DuPage Valley Conference game in Aurora on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Jon Cunningham / Naperville Sun)

Danehl contributed eight points, six rebounds and two steals Wednesday night as the host Mustangs earned a gritty 45-34 DuPage Valley Conference victory against Naperville Central in the regular-season finale in Aurora.

Both teams shot poorly, but the Mustangs (19-10, 6-4) prevailed with their hard-nosed defense. The Redhawks (9-22, 0-10) scored just nine points after halftime.

“When shots aren’t falling for us, our main thing is defense,” Danehl said. “In the first half, we were turning the ball over a lot and not playing much defense.

“In the second half, we had 12 stops in a row. From that, we were using the energy from defense to get on offense.”

Metea Valley senior standouts Will Ashford and James Parker led the way offensively with 11 and 10 points, respectively, and Nosek added nine points and 11 rebounds. But Danehl, who made 3 of 8 shots, proved especially effective on defense.

“If you can’t shoot, if you can’t score, then try to find something else to impact the game, and defense was my thing tonight,” Danehl said.

He was tasked with guarding Connor Sands, a burly junior who is the starting center on Naperville Central’s football team. Sands attempted just three shots, all from 3-point range, and had three rebounds.

“He’s a strong guy,” Danehl said. “One of the main things, especially for football players, is that they’re not the best for dribbling. So I tried to lay off him a little, trying to have my first step on him, and that limits him driving so he’ll shoot only open threes.”

The Redhawks made only two of those. Aside from senior center Jackson First, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds, no player was effective offensively.

But Danehl had his moments. He scored off an assist from Parker to give the Mustangs a 35-27 lead after three quarters and sank two free throws following his fourth offensive rebound with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 41-32.

“He played well,” Nosek said. “He’s always been a scrappy kid. He gets in there and mucks things up, trying to get deflections, and he’s got long arms.

“He’s going to try to contribute in a positive way, no matter what that is. He knew there was another way to affect the game, and his offensive rebounds were huge.”

That has been a recurring theme for Danehl.

“He’s scrappy and tough and a competitor,” Metea Valley coach Isaiah Davis said. “He works hard, and he’s done a good job of filling in at that starting role this year. He’s played well the last month.”

Metea Valley's Alex Danehl (20) drives past Naperville Central's Jack Gervase during a game in Aurora on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.(Jon Cunningham for the Naperville Sun)
Metea Valley’s Alex Danehl (20) drives past Naperville Central’s Jack Gervase during a DuPage Valley Conference game in Aurora on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Jon Cunningham / Naperville Sun)

Danehl’s competitive playing career will soon come to an end, but he and the seventh-seeded Mustangs would like to get two more home wins in the playoffs. They host a Class 4A regional next week, starting with a semifinal against 11th-seeded Plainfield North on Wednesday.

Danehl said he’s ready.

“We have four days of prep, and we’ve got to be locked in,” he said. “One thing you can’t teach is hard work. Just always play hard, and great things will happen.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter.

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