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Path to stardom began at home for Kloe Froebe, the 'Caitlin Clark of Illinois girls basketball'

Kloe Froebe, with trophy, was surrounded by her family while holding a trophy
Kari Froebe
Kloe Froebe, with trophy, was surrounded by her family last year at CEFCU Arena after placing second in the Class 3A girls state basketball tournament. From left were her brother, Kaden; her mother, Kari; her father, Kent; her brother, Kruz; and her sister, Kaelyn.

Before Lincoln’s Kloe Froebe could become the “Caitlin Clark of Illinois girls high school basketball,” as a growing number of people call her, she had a formidable challenge at home.

Her parents, Kent and Kari Froebe, were high school stars who later played at Monmouth College. Her older sister, Kaelyn, scored 1,904 points at Lincoln and played at McKendree University. Older brother Kaden scored 1,111 points at Lincoln, starring on a 32-2 team as a senior, and recently surpassed 1,000 points at Missouri S&T University.

Oh, and little brother Kruz, a sixth-grader, helped his West Lincoln-Broadwell team win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 7-1A state championship earlier this month.

Talk of Caitlin Clark, the do-it-all star at the University of Iowa, came later. First, Kloe Froebe had to become the best player in her family.

She did it by having her mother as her coach from kindergarten through eighth grade; her father as her rebounder on thousands of shots in gyms throughout Lincoln; her siblings as terrific examples while she watched from the stands, with dad in the next seat offering advice/instruction; and by meshing with teammates who have been together, and tight, since they learned to read.

All are stars in their own right on a 34-0 team ranked No. 1 in Class 3A and seeking to go one better than last year’s 36-1, state runner-up season. But only one sparks comparisons to Clark, who recently became the NCAA women’s career scoring leader.

Kloe Froebe entered this week’s East Peoria Sectional with 3,135 career points, eighth-most in Illinois High School Association history. A 5-foot-9 senior guard, she also had 852 rebounds, 582 steals and 517 assists.

She has the type of well-rounded game that has made Clark a national phenomenon. So what’s it like being mentioned with the Iowa star?

“It’s an incredible honor when I do hear people say that and when I have little kids come up to me and ask for an autograph or a picture,” Froebe said. “It warms my heart knowing that I’m having an impact on even the smallest of communities. Just being able to give back to the sport, give back to the younger generation, it’s my biggest accomplishment I feel.”

That said, individual accolades are secondary to team goals. That’s the Froebe way. When Kent, superintendent of Lincoln Elementary District 27, and Kari, teacher and former coach at West Lincoln-Broadwell, got their children involved in sports, with a “nudge” toward basketball, they stressed leadership, working with others and being coachable.

Becoming a good player was an objective. Being a good teammate was the priority.

“It was ingrained in our minds that you can’t win without your teammates, you can’t accomplish anything without your teammates,” Kloe Froebe said. “I’ve grown up knowing that and my siblings have grown up knowing that it doesn’t matter who scores as long as we’re scoring as a team. We’ve kind of embraced that philosophy.”

Her teammates wrap their arms around it as well. Of the top six players, Kloe, Becca Heitzig, Jenna Bowman, Tori Geriets and Piper Whiteman played for Kari Froebe at West Lincoln-Broadwell. Taryn Stoltzenburg attended Lincoln Junior High, but played on some of Kari Froebe’s youth travel teams.

The bond is strong.

“I can’t remember one time they ever fought,” Kari Froebe said. “There was no drama. You don’t see that much.”

Family history

Similarly, it’s rare to see a basketball family as accomplished as the Froebes. It all began at Monmouth, where the men’s basketball team had practice following the women’s team. That’s how Kent Froebe and Kari Walters met.

He was a star at Tremont High School and played at Monmouth from 1996-2000. Kari was the Peoria Journal Star Small School Player of the Year in 1994 at Bushnell-Prairie City High School. She also was a state hurdles champion in track, but her passion was basketball. After a semester at Eastern Illinois, she transferred to Monmouth.

Kent was a varsity basketball coach at Morrisonville before becoming an administrator and the family moved to Lincoln. Kaelyn attended his practices at Morrisonville, while the younger Froebe children often were at Kari’s West Lincoln-Broadwell practices.

Kruz Froebe poses for a photo with his family and trophy
Kari Froebe
West Lincoln-Broadwell sixth-grader Kruz Froebe celebrated his team's Class 7-1A state basketball championship earlier this month with, from left, his father, Kent; his mother, Kari; and his sister, Kloe.

They grew up in gyms.

“It’s a hard sport not to love,” said Kaelyn Magee, who married Tyson Magee last year. “In basketball, you learn so many great life lessons. I really enjoyed playing. They (her parents) taught us fundamentals at an early age. When I got into college I kind of carried that over. You’d wake up, go work out and then go to practice. It was the same (as always).”

Occasionally, the Froebe children played 1-on-1. One such battle is burned into Kaelyn’s memory.

“In college, we’d come home and we’d go to the gym. My junior season, Kloe beat me,” Kaelyn said. “It’s something I’ll never forget. I was a junior in college and my little sister beat me. I was like, ‘Dang.’ At that point, I was like, ‘OK, I respect it.’”

Kloe broke her sister’s sophomore season scoring record at Lincoln. She also zoomed past Kaelyn’s school record for career rebounds.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else to have it,” Kaelyn said.

Kaden Froebe is in his fourth year at Missouri S&T and will earn his bachelor's degree in May. He has a year of eligibility remaining because of COVID and plans to use it to pursue a master's.

He has the distinction of being the first Froebe to score 1,000 points in college. Kent Froebe fell eight points short, but his children wear his jersey No. 5 anyway.

Kaden and Kent squared off on the court early on, but the games ended when Kent “figured out I wasn’t going to beat (him) anymore.”

“I think the biggest competition I had in the family was always Kruz,” Kaden said. “I’d come home and shoot with Kruz. I had to stop doing that once he got a little older. Over Thanksgiving he made nine out of 10 3s (3-pointers) and he told me to step up and make 10 out of 10 or ‘you’re going to lose.’

“I stopped playing Kaelyn once it started being a little too competitive between us and some fights would break out. I stopped playing her at a pretty young age.”

Kruz Froebe scored 10 points in the recent 40-32 state championship win over Ottawa Marquette. He is well aware of what lies ahead … holding up, or even enhancing, the family tradition.

“It’s a lot of pressure. You know you have to follow right in their footprints,” he said. “You always want to be better. Watching them be so good, it’s getting more pressure on me to try and get better.

“They keep the pressure off at home, but not in the gym. Watching them grow up and knowing that they had to start in kindergarten, I knew I was going to have to put a lot of work in to be as good as they were.”

He’s off to a good start, as was Kloe at his age.

As a fifth-grader, she helped win a seventh-grade state title. In sixth and seventh grades, she played on seventh- and eighth-grade state championship teams. Another state title was secured in eighth grade, giving her six junior high state championships. Her mother coached eight state title teams before getting out of coaching three years ago.

Kari Froebe is now part of the radio broadcasts for Lincoln girls games. Her daughter knows she’s there.

“I kind of learned how to pick her voice specifically out of a crowd,” Kloe said. “On the court, I can still sometimes hear her above all the crowd. I’m like, ‘That’s crazy.’”

Kloe Froebe, who was named Wednesday to the 26-member IHSA All-State Academic Team, will play for Colorado State next year. She chose the Fort Collins, Colorado, school prior to this season, ending a robust recruiting battle for a player who scored a state tournament record 45 points in last year’s semifinals.

She, Heitzig and several of their teammates also placed second in the state in volleyball in November, while Heitzig, already a state track champion, won the 3A state cross country title in the midst of the volleyball run.

“We all went to her state cross country meet and got to watch her run,” Kloe said. “It was just a really cool experience.”

It’s been a remarkable journey across multiple sports for Froebe and her longtime friends and teammates.

“We know that our younger selves would be so proud of us,” she said.

Well said. And well done.

Surely Caitlin Clark would agree.

Veteran Bloomington-Normal journalist joined WGLT as a correspondent in 2023. You can reach Randy at rkindred58@gmail.com.