By Jason Maholy
Argo girls basketball coach Dan McCarthy knew coming into the 2019-20 season that his squad had the potential to do great things.
Six of the Argonauts’ nine players were seniors – several were in their third years of varsity ball – and had won multiple tournament and conference titles throughout their high school careers. The program itself came into the year the four-time defending South Suburban Conference Red champs and had been dominant, going unbeaten in league play the previous two seasons.
Argo extended that conference championship streak to five seasons and went on to win its first regional crown in 30 seasons with a 75-46 win over Lindblom in the Class 4A Morton Regional.
For his role in the Argonauts’ most successful season this century, McCarthy has been recognized as the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association District 8 Coach of the Year.
McCarthy, who has captained the Argonauts’ ship for the past 16 seasons, was quick to deflect praise from himself to his players and coaching staff.
“I’m humbled, grateful and certainly fortunate to be surrounded by outstanding players and an outstanding coaching staff,” McCarthy said. “Any time you have the type of year we did, when you have the level of dedication from players and the coaching staff, those offseason awards are a nice feather in the cap.”
Argo entered the 2019-20 season looking to make up for a disappointing end to 2018-19. The Argonauts had entered the playoffs that season 23-3 and riding a 16-game winning streak; however, that all came to an abrupt and unexpected halt with a crushing first-round playoff loss to Lyons. It was another tough conclusion to a season for a program that had lost regional title games in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
“That left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth and provided tremendous motivation for us going into the following season to stay focused and understand the degree of preparation necessary to be successful in the playoffs,” McCarthy said. “They realized that if they were going to distinguish themselves from our other senior classes, the one piece of the puzzle would be the regional championship, and they really set their minds and their hearts on chasing that benchmark.”
The journey to capture that Golden Fleece was essentially a 12-month odyssey that began shortly after the 2018-19 season ended. McCarthy added games to the schedule – Argo played more than 30 games for the first time in program history – and boosted the level of competition with games against teams such as Riverside-Brookfield, Wheaton North and Marian Catholic.
“They had a championship pedigree, they had the maturity and they certainly had a great run of success their first three years as far as conference championships, tournament championships; but the one thing that was missing was that deep playoff run,” he said. “We added games and tough opponents, tougher tournaments and we played 15 of our first 16 games away from home. Because of the maturity of this team we knew it would pay off in the long run, and the players understood the early season losses would help their development later in the year.
“It certainly did, because we were able to play our best basketball the last month of the season.”
Argo hit its stride after Christmas, rebounding from a 24-point loss to R-B by rattling off six consecutive wins heading into a matchup with a Sandburg team that was playing at a high level. The Argonauts walloped the Eagles by 28, and that proved to be a significant moment in the season.
“Things came together that day and we dominated a very good Sandburg team,” McCarthy said. “That’s when all of us kind of took a step back and said, ‘Okay, this is what we’re capable of doing.”
The victory was part of a 13-3 run to end to the regular season, and the Argonauts carried that momentum into the playoffs.
With a regional championship finally under their belt, the Argonauts now have a higher bar to clear in the years ahead.
“We’ve had a great run of talented players in the program; the last five years have brought in a great influx of talent,” McCarthy said. “When you have talented players its incumbent on the coaching staff to develop that and build a winning culture, and part of that is keeping them hungry and motivated.”
This season’s team entered conference play with 41 consecutive league wins dating back to the 2016-17 campaign. Five of Argo’s outgoing six seniors will play college ball, and this year’s senior class will hold a special place in Argo history and McCarthy’s heart.
“They will never be forgotten,” he said. “You never forget the first senior class that wins a conference championship and now I’ll never forget the first class that won a regional title. This was very dedicated group of seniors that had decorated careers at Argo.
“You could argue this season was one of the most successful seasons ever for our girls basketball program.”