Wednesday is signing day for college basketball players, and Vernon Hills is hosting an event saluting 6-foot-2 center Meri Bennett-Swanson. Her next basketball adventure will take her to Chicago for hoops at DePaul University.
There was more good news on opening night of basketball at Vernon Hills. The Cougars, a team that finished second in the state a season ago, scored the game's first 12 points on Monday night and never looked back in routing Maine East 68-31. This game was part of the fourth annual Cougar Classic.
Bennett-Swanson led all scorers with 16 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
First of all, she's not likely to forget her experiences with last year's team.
"It was one my best times ever,'' Bennett-Swanson said. "We really worked together so well and had really great leadership."
The new VH club has plenty of familiar faces. Those sophomore stars from a year ago are back for their junior campaigns. Both Lauren Webb and Sydney Smith scored in double figures. Aggressive Brie Bahlmann returns to play tough defense. This senior scored 6 of her 8 points in the second half. And the Cougars have another sophomore who bears watching. Kasey Firnbach didn't start but finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds.
"That's a pretty good first game,'' said Vernon Hills coach Paul Brettner.
Swanson opened the new campaign with the team's first basket. With her team up by a dozen points early, Bennett-Swanson had half of those points and 5 rebounds.
"I thought we passed really well tonight,'' she said. "I also thought Maine East was very athletic and kept us guessing."
Maine East missed its first seven shots and soon found itself trailing by 20 points. Bahlmann's first bucket of the game gave the Cougars a lopsided 34-11 lead late in the first half.
The high-scoring Smith had just 4 points to talk about at halftime. And then this junior got busy scoring on fast breaks. She had 4 of her 14 points in a 45-second spurt of the third quarter. Teammate Webb seemed content to drive to the hoop for her baskets. And then she showed her complete floor game by landing a 3-pointer halfway through the third quarter. Webb finished with 13 points. She chipped in 9 rebounds.
With a 55-22 lead heading to the fourth quarter, Brettner was able to substitute freely. Smith landed a 3-pointer for her final score of the night. And then the promising Firnbach scored on back-to-back plays. She seems comfortable shooting outside and mixing it up under the boards.
Bennett-Swanson knows she will have to compete for playing time at DePaul next season.
"It's going to be competitive,'' she said. "Coach Doug Bruno says you earn what you do in practice."
Maine East was led in scoring by freshman guard Janelle Alba Garner, who had 9 points.
"Maine East did some nice things,'' Brettner said.
The next game for the Cougars comes Thursday night (7:30 p.m.) against Lake Forest.