#YoungGuns Red: The Vannessa Garrelts Story


Woodstock, IL- Stories like Vannessa’s are so cool to see. Too often it’s intimated that it is “uncool” to be a good student-athlete, respectful son or daughter, loyal friend, or have compassion for your fellow humankind. Young people today are manipulated by uncounted contravening forces that attempt to corrupt their already too short “age of innocence”. Vannessa Garrelts has a tale to tell that will make you believe all is not lost. Some call her Vannessa, others Nessa. Me, I’m going with dad and calling her Red!

The Garrelts are made up of dad Stephen and mom Evelyn, who own and operate Garrelts & Sons in McHenry. They are the humble and rightfully proud parents of: Stevie, Gabriella, Marcus, Vannessa.

I first met Red with the assistance of Director of Admissions and Marketing and football head coach Mike Maloney. Coach and I discuss #YoungGuns and he’d recommended Red and some other student-athletes. We went to an open classroom on a pleasant May day and had a really nice chat (see audio below), though I did embarrass myself regarding the Lady Hurricanes Team Captain!

Click here to listen to Red unfiltered:

Some days later, I trekked to the Garrelts’s Spring Grove home to visit and interview Red’s mother and father, Evelyn and Steve, her older sister, Gabriella, and Lila and Scruffy in their spacious kitchen/dining area. We had a great conversation as we talked about why Red turned out the way she has and other great stories. Steve tells how he met his lovely wife and what his deepest wishes are for his four children. They are Stevie (Butler University/Purdue University and will graduate with a double major in Bio Engineering), Gabriella (studying for her degree in Special Education at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), Marcus (Marian Central Catholic senior who played football and baseball), and the youngest, Red.

Besides hearing from Vannessa and her family, we also had wonderful exchanges with Tom Hohenadel and Tony Powe. Hohenadel is the founder and head coach of Illinois Elite Basketball Club. Powe is a History teacher and head coach of girls basketball at Marian CC. Powe is entering his 2nd season for the Lady Hurricanes (11-18).

Please sit back and listen to the Garrelts as they let you in for a peek into an All-American family with a very special young lady, a Lady Hurricane.

Dad and daughter: Ties that bind

Click here to listen to stories and observations from Evelyn & Steve:

One of Vannessa’s fiercest supporters and a strong family friend, Coach Hohenadel was kind enough to give us his opinion of one of his best players, and that is saying something. Coach, please start and give us background on this little dynamo, “ILLINOIS ELITE is an Invitation Only Nationally Ranked Program that is extremely selective when scouting potential players.  We have won 11 Illinois AAU State Championships including the last 7 years in a row. We have sent 109 players to College on Full Division One scholarships. I am reminded of the time when I was at Saint Viator; and Marian Central High School came calling to play an East Suburban Catholic Conference matchup. There was this little 5’5” red haired freshman girl who was still subject to Marian’s no more than 2 quarters on Varsity restriction. She quietly entered the game in the Second Quarter. No one knew who she was. Three minutes later she had buried Three 3 point shots with the quickest release I had ever seen in 16 years of Coaching. Saint Viator’s Assistant Athletic Director Mike Manno turned to me and said, ‘Tom that will be the best player in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.’ I agreed.  Well, as a Sophomore, Vannessa made First Team ALL ESCC ; and is a favorite to win ESCC player of the Year as a Junior.”

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Coach Hohenadel continues, “Shortly after that I brought Vannessa to the University of Wisconsin where I have sent players before for their ELITE Camp.  Head Coach Bobbi Kelsey approached me and said, ‘Who in the world is that little Red haired fireball.  I want her here to lead our program.’ She offered Vannessa a Full Scholarship on the spot.   Soon Illinois State offered her another Full Scholarship and the beat goes on….  Harvard has offered her the keys to their program; and 15 other additional schools are seriously interested. Vannessa will have many options of Colleges to choose from. I have been honored to Coach so many talented guards ….None are a more Natural or talented Leader than Vannessa Garrelts .  She ranks among the great Guards I have been blessed  to Coach including Duke’s Haley Gorecki , DePaul’s Megan Podkowa, Wisconsin’s Jacki Gulczynski, Yale’s Lena Munzer and Saint Louis University’s Jackie Kemph who was just honored as the  Atlantic 10  Conference  Player of the Year as a Sophomore.


“Vannessa Garrelts is a young lady from a wonderful family of the highest character.  Her Basketball skills are God given; and she works harder than anyone else to see that she is the Very Best player she can be.  Players migrate toward her charismatic personality and want to follow her.  She is the Glue to every team she plays on.  Her Basketball skills are unique and often cause spectators to go “Wow” OR   “Are you kidding me!!  How’d she do that!!”   Players love to play with her because they know she will find them if they work to get open. Vannessa is a gifted scorer who can carry a team with her scoring ability; but she would rather throw a beautiful pass to a teammate and involve everyone on the floor than score herself.  Often, I tell her when the game is on the line, ‘Nessa, time to take over!’ and she just nods her head and does whatever it takes to guide the team to victory.”

The praise and recognition that a coach with his incredible experience is applying to Red is quite something. Coach H ends saying, “A player likes Vannessa comes around very rarely.  I am privileged to be her Coach.” High praise indeed.

Coach H Elite Extras: Vannessa has made the United States Junior Nationals All Star Team in 2 Major College Exposure Tournaments this season.  These include the USJN Hoops in the Heartland in Indianapolis, Indiana April 16-18, and USJN Mid America Challenge at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois May 21-22.    Add one more UNITED STATES JUNIOR NATIONALS ALL STAR TEAM…..  USJN MIDWEST NATIONAL QUALIFIER ,  Waukegan, Illinois April 9-11.  We’ve played in 4 Major College Exposure Tournaments so far this season. Vannessa has been voted to the All Star team by opposing Coaches in 3 of them !!!




Coach Powe tells us this when asked to let us know what makes Vannessa unique, “Nessa is obviously extremely talented student-athlete but what people don’t see is how hard she works on her game.  She spends hours in the gym shooting, working on ball handling, conditioning. She is a perfect example of what a coach wants in a player. She is humble, positive, puts the team first, and extremely coachable. Last season she was elected as a captain by her teammates, a testament to character and work ethic.”

Knowing what Red means to next season and the enormous part she’ll play, Coach Powe finishes with this, “She is in the AP World History course that I instruct and she is the same way in the classroom as in practice. I am most impressed with Vannessa in terms of her being a servant for her teammates. She truly cares for her teammates and wants them to succeed. She continually has positive words of encouragement. Nessa battled through pain and injury this past season at times simply because she wanted to be there for her teammates and not let them down.”
With Red you have two prominent coaches with two very similar evaluations. Thanks to families like the Garrelts, schools such as Marian CC and top notch youth sport organizations like Illinois Elite, we all can rest somewhat easier. This kid is a winner!
Special shout out from Red to two people instrumental in her athletic development. First is to Steve Preston.  He worked her very hard and taught her a lot of what she knows in ball handling,  shooting etc. After training with him the past 5 years, he will be missed.  He unfortunately just moved to Florida. Second is Marian CC Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Leathers. Leathers, who owns Your World Fitness in Spring Grove, was instrumental in Red’s development and overall excellent fitness.
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