Hinsdale Central has produced a number of accomplished female athletes since Title IX gave them equal opportunity with boys, but no girl has been more gifted than the Class of 2010’s Toni Kokenis, who’s now starring in basketball at Stanford University.
She led Central’s basketball team to four conference and regional championships as well as three sectional finalist spots, and is the school’s all-time leading scorer (boys or girls) with 2,031 points. She also holds the single-season record with 620 points and was Central’s first to record a triple-double game in points, assists and steals.
There’s more. Kokenis lettered in soccer for three years, driving the Red Devils to the 2009 Class 3A state title with 26 goals and 10 assists.
“Toni was very good in soccer her freshman year,” longtime coach Skip Begley said. “We had one of our poorer teams record-wise her sophomore year, but she made one of the best plays I’ve ever seen when she came in on a ball with less than 10 seconds left against Marist. I turned to (assistant) Ed Lynch and said, ‘Watch this, Ed. Watch this.’ Sure enough, she buried the ball in the back of the net and we won. Amazing.”
Kokenis was held out of Central’s first two Class 3A state soccer playoff games as a junior because she was hurt, but she had six goals in the last five contests, including the winning shot in a 2-1 victory over Fremd for the team title.
“She came into Central as a great soccer player,” then-basketball coach Steve Gross told the Palo Alto (Calif.) Mercury News. “We challenged her to play basketball. She wasn’t great at it at first, but she loved the challenge.”
Kokenis drew basketball interest from DePaul, Vanderbilt and Boston College, but when she told Gross that her dream school was Stanford, Gross wrote Stanford a recommendation.
“We have a 5-point GPA (grade-point average) scale here and Toni was about a 5.9, so Stanford was the right fit,” Gross said.
The 5-foot-11 Kokenis is excelling at Stanford as a true combination guard. She’s gifted enough to pass the ball from the point and skilled enough to shoot it from the perimeter for the No. 2 nationally ranked Cardinal. She’s averaging 9.6 points and leads the PAC-10 in assists-to-turnovers ratio.
Kokenis looks for Stanford’s big front-court stars Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike for most of the school’s baskets.
“It’s a privilege to play with them,” she said. “Getting the ball to them for layups is the No. 1 thing. They’re such great people, so energetic and fun to play with.”
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer is impressed with Kokenis’ defense.
“She shuts people down by getting in front of them,” VanDerveer said of Kokenis having held University of Arizona star Davellyn White scoreless. “She has a strong body and is in great shape.”
Stanford’s only loss this season heading into the upcoming NCAA playoffs was 68-58 at Connecticut in November.
The Cardinal were eliminated in the NCAA semifinals last year 63-62 by Texas A&M on a basket with 3.3 seconds left.
“We need to finish games like that,” said Kokenis, who learned how to finish games at Central.
“Girls basketball in Illinois is big,” she said. “When the top teams played each other, the gyms would be full. We always got stuck playing the team that would go on to win State.”
Kokenis is on track to keep on winning at Stanford.
“Because here’s the thing about realizing you’re into girls. Hardly anyone I know has ever said, “Am I gay?” in the same way they say, “Hey, do you know what the weather’s supposed to be like tomorrow?” Like they just need to figure out how to dress for the occasion. No, when most people ask, “Am I gay?” they ask it with the kind of urgency they would usually reserve for things like, “Do I strap this parachute to my back and jump from this free falling airplane or do I nose dive into the ocean and hope the sharks don’t eat my remains? SINK OR SWIM? LIVE OR DIE? QUENCH THE FIRE OR BURN ALIVE?” It feels so urgent, and the reason it feels so urgent is because you’re probably not just asking, “Hey, do I want to make out with other girls?”
You’re also probably asking: What the hell are my parents going to say when I tell them I want to kiss other girls? And my friends and my co-workers and my classmates and everyone at my family reunion? And what’s that girl going to say when I tell her I want to kiss her? And how is my life ever going to be OK, and how can I go on being the same, and am I the same, and what else do I not know about what’s alive inside me? And who will still love me and who will start hating me, and is God involved, or the government maybe, and what if it’s only one girl I want to kiss, and how do I label myself and must I label myself, and what if I change my mind and, really, what if I do burn alive?”—