The girls basketball season tips off around the Fox Valley area this week and any new season comes with questions, right?
We'll try to give some insight to the questions with our season previews later this week but before the first jump ball of the season around our Fox Valley coverage area, a little primer, school-by-school, as we get ready for 2012-13.
• Will a lighter schedule lead to more wins for Elgin? Maroons' coach Dr. Nick Bumbales scaled back the schedule this season, opting out of the Burlington Central Thanksgiving Tournament for Elgin Academy. Now, one could easily take that statement and say, "What, Elgin High playing in the Elgin Academy tournament?" Well, folks, it's not 1996 anymore and no one knows that better than Bumbales. The Maroons have won 3 games the past two years and Doc is right when he says it's time to instill some confidence into the program and get some wins. There's nothing he can do about the Upstate Eight schedule his team has to play, and it'll be a rugged one again, but why not play some teams you have a better chance of beating when you can? The Maroons have some experience back and even though they lost a large majority of their scoring and rebounding with Bri Hamilton's graduation, something tells me Elgin will be more competitive this season.
• Can Ruben Flores become a stabilizing influence at Larkin? Flores has been in the program as an assistant or underclass coach the past 3 years and now he gets his shot at turning the Royals around. He becomes Larkin's fourth coach in the last five years and what the program needs more than anything is stability. Flores says he's in it for the long term and we can only hope he is. The talent pool on his first varsity team isn't bad, and will get better when Tori Patterson comes back for the second half of the season.
• Streamwood may have only been 15-14 last season but the Sabres contended for the Upstate Eight River title and longtime coach George Rosner could have one of his best Sabres teams ever this season, if his team can avoid the injury bug that hit it last year. Jessica Cerda, recently committed to Chicago State, is one of the most versatile players in the Chicago area and when you look at the experience Streamwood has coming back this season up and down the roster, you wonder if a conference title and maybe even that first regional crown since 1988 will be in the Sabres' future.
• What's in store for Bartlett? Last year, the optimist had reservations made to see the Hawks play at Redbird Arena in March, which they did on a magical run to the third-place trophy at the state tournament. But coach Denise Sarna graduated all 5 starters and anytime that happens you know you might want to hold off on any plans for a deep postseason run. Don't take that as a sign the Hawks won't be decent. Pride goes a long way at Bartlett and with Lake Park transfer Alyssa Hernandez in the mix, when the 2013 portion of the season gets here Bartlett could be a tough opponent.
• Is South Elgin a dark horse? You bet. The Storm won't try to replace the 2,000-plus points Becca Smith scored before graduating on to Loyola University -- you don't replace 2,000-plus points in any program. But coach Tim Prendergast knows that when Savanah Uveges returns from her ACL injury in January that his team could be in good shape to win a second straight regional title and compete in the UEC Valley. A more experienced and stronger Kennede Miller, and a healthy Kara Rodriguez will lead the way until Uveges' return, at which point opponents might want to be on top of their game when they play South Elgin.
• Will the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division title go through Cary-Grove again? It would figure to. The Trojans have won the last three Valley titles and with the return of Olivia Jakubicek, Joslyn Nicholson and Katie Barker there's no reason to think coach Rod Saffert's group can't make it a 4-peat. Beyond that, the Trojans would like the third time to be the charm. They've lost in the last two sectional finals, making the motivation for an Elite Eight berth this year even greater.
• Can Huntley take it away from Cary-Grove? Yep, there is that chance. The Red Raiders have two of the better players in the area back in Sam Andrews and Haley Ream. And remember this name -- Ali Andrews. All indications are the 6-foot-2 freshman is the real deal. Huntley coach Steve Raethz, in his 14th season, says she's the most talented freshman he's coached and every coach I mentioned her name to from summer league play agreed the Red Raiders have a potential superstar. Add the experience returning to a promising rookie and this could be a banner year at Huntley.
• Is Jacobs ready to turn it around? The Golden Eagles did have a better year last year and now, with new coach Joe Benoit in place, the hope on Bunker Hill Dr. is that things can get back to the consistency of the 2000s under Ed Haugens. With five seniors returning and some size to boot, Jacobs could be in for a better season.
• Speaking of Haugens, how's Hampshire shaping up? Well, one thing we know about any Haugens teams is that it's always going to play hard. The Whip-Purs went 17-15 overall last year and got their feet wet in the Fox Valley Conference and Haugens has a good nucleus to work with again. And, yes, there are still Dumoulin girls playing basketball at Hampshire.
• What's it looking like at Crystal Lake South? Another coach who always seems to get the most out of his athletes is South's Kyle McCaughn. The Gators have six seniors returning but McCaughn also has five sophomores and a freshman up. Junior Sara Mickow is one of the top returning players in the area and once they gain some experience, the Gators could mesh into a tough foe.
• How does Dundee-Crown replace Ali Sanders? Well, you don't. Sanders, like Becca Smith from South Elgin and Haley Videckis from Bartlett, is one of those players you just don't try to replace. Coach Michelle Russell's team went 15-12 last season and contended for the FVC Valley title deep into the season, but the Chargers will have some inexperience on the floor to start the season. Jillian Weichmann and Emily Michalski lead the D-C returnees.
• How will the Mark Smith era begin at Burlington Central? Smith, who coached the Harper College women's team and has been a boys coach at St. Charles North in the past, is returning to the high school ranks and takes over as the Rockets' fourth coach in the past five years. Half of Smith's varsity roster is freshmen, but there is some experience back in seniors Erica Haynes and Camille Dela Cruz, as well as 6-foot sophomore Allison Colby. Smith's style should take hold, and the Rockets should become a more competitive team with experience.
• What does the jump to 3A mean for St. Edward? Well, it won't mean a lot until mid-February because the Green Wave plays a predominantly 3A schedule anyway. But it will mean that coach Michelle Dawson's team will need to be healthy, which it currently isn't. Two of the Wave's top players, Rena Ranallo and Katie Swanson, are nursing injuries and lack of varsity experience beyond them will mean their health is as important to St. Edward's chances at success as anything. Dawson expects both back healthy within a couple of weeks.
•And how about the smaller schools? Westminster Christian is coming off the best season in program history, a 22-9 campaign that ended in the Class 1A sectional finals, and with top players like Mikalia Hays and Claire Speweik returning, the Warriors could dominate again. Harvest Christian won 17 games last season and has four starters returning when Sydney Doby and Morgan Lockwood come back from injuries. Elgin Academy looks to turn the corner under new coach Bill Rodriguez.