Sydney Smith is sporting a new look. And the four-year varsity starter isn't alone.
Vernon Hills' girls basketball team took the court Thursday night for its second game in its own fifth annual Cougar Classic without some familiar faces. While center Meri Bennett-Swanson is off playing Division I basketball at DePaul after four varsity seasons, and Brie Bahlmann (Appalachian State, soccer) and Alina Lehocky (Illinois Wesleyan, basketball) have also graduated after helping the Cougars place second in the state in Class 3A, Lauren Webb is watching from the bench.
The captain of last season's Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team, Webb has been diagnosed with a navicular fracture in her right foot. The 6-foot senior, who last week signed with Bowling Green State, is expected to learn more about how long she'll be sidelined after she has a CAT-scan today.
Webb has plantar fasciitis, too. How she injured her foot or what caused it is unclear.
"It's been just a buildup, because I've been playing straight basketball since like seventh grade," Webb said after Vernon Hills defeated Lake Forest 42-18 to improve to 2-0.
Sporting brown hair, after three years as a blonde for the Cougars, Smith led the way Thursday night with 9 points, including a 3-pointer, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot.
"I changed it," Smith, who signed with Vermont last week, said of her hair color. "I was feeling the darker."
Smith also had jaw surgery in early August. It kept her out for two months.
"I had an under-bite, jaw-clicking and lockjaw issues," Smith said. "So the best solution for me was to get the surgery.
"I didn't start playing with 100-percent contact until probably the middle of October," she added. "It's nothing that affects basketball. I'm still getting hit. I'm still hitting people -- not like violently."
Webb was wearing a walking boot until getting a second opinion this week and discovering her original injury, she said, was misdiagnosed.
When Webb sat out the Cougars' season opener Monday night against Maine East, it was the first game she had missed in her high school career. It's admittedly strange for the four-year varsity player to be watching from the bench.
"But they're doing great," Webb said of her teammates.
Vernon Hills trailed Lake Forest (1-1) by an 11-9 margin after one quarter. But the Cougars then outscored the Scouts 12-0 in the second to take a 21-11 lead into halftime, as Smith and Dana Meline each sank a pair of shots from the floor. Monica Bahlmann's two 3s and one from Kasey Firnbach helped Vernon Hills outscore Lake Forest 18-3 in the fourth.
Firnbach finished with 8 points (two 3s). The Cougars still have ample talent and experience to win while Webb mends.
"The way we're looking at is, if things go the way we hope, she'll be back eventually," Brettner said. "That gives some other kids a good opportunity to grow and get better, so that when she comes back, hopefully our whole is fortified and stronger."
Smith stepped up in Webb's absence in the opener, scoring 29 points to tie Lauren Horan's school record. Smith missed a free throw that would have given her 30 points.
It was no big deal.
"She's not a point counter," Brettner said.
"It's not the end of the world," Smith said. "To me, it's about the win, more than anything."
And winning is what the Cougars do, no matter who's on the court.