Crystal Lake South Gators
Last year: 14-15, 5-7 Fox Valley Valley (fourth)
Coach: Matt LePage, second season (14-15)
Top returnees: Caleb Johnson (6-1, G), Chris Mahoney (6-4, F), Austin Rogers (6-2, G), Collin Wagner (5-10, G)
Top newcomers: juniors Kyle Bartusch (6-2, F), Steve Thomas (6-0, G); sophomores Wes Buckner (6-5, C), Josh Friesen (6-9, C)
Outlook: Led by returning all-area guard Austin Rogers and fortified by a group of juniors that tied Jacobs for the Fox Valley (Valley) title as sophomores, the Gators have their sites set on competing for the division title. Rogers, who has piqued the interest of several Division III and Division II college programs, is the tip of the spear. A threat to score from any spot on the court, the 6-2, 200-pound guard led the Gators last season in scoring (15.1 avg) and pulled down 6.3 rebounds per game. His attacking style led to 156 free-throw attempts last season, of which he sank 101 (65 percent). With the new emphasis on hand checking, Rogers could become a 20-point-per-game scorer this season via the drive and the free-throw line. "He looks real good, a little quicker and a little more athletic than he was last year," Gators coach Matt LePage said. "His junior year was big for him confidence-wise. He knows what he can do out there now. The big thing is getting everyone around him to play at a high level and he understands that." The Gators lost a lot to graduation, but guards Caleb Johnson and Chris Mahoney each played significant minutes last year, including some spot starts. Steve Thomas and Tyler Baker are among the juniors pushing for minutes at the point guard position, LePage said. Both will play. Senior Collin Wagner didn't play much last year, but his coach calls him one of the most improved players in the area who will not only play but be counted on to shoot. Other guards expected to contribute right away are multisport athletes Kyle Bartusch and Garrett Bright. Bartusch played wide receiver on the football team this fall; Bright played varsity baseball last spring. The varsity gets an infusion of height from the sophomore class in 6-9 center Josh Friesen and 6-5 center Wes Buckner. They might spell each other or man the post together when the Gators go with a bigger lineup. LePage said Friesen has been impressive in practice with 15 pounds of added muscle, but he won't be the focus of the offense in just his third year playing the sport. His coach calls Friesen a "smart player who picks things up quickly." Buckner, a varsity football player, will help the Gators defend some of the bigger players in the area. The Gators enter the season with confidence after winning their own summer shootout title. "I think we're all excited to get going," said LePage, whose team has shifted to the Richmond-Burton Thanksgiving Tournament after several years at the Batavia Windmill Classic. "We definitely have that Year Two mentality. We're expecting to go out and play well and those expectations come from ourselves. This team has worked hard enough to be in position to play good basketball."