Burlington Central Rockets
Last year: 27-5 (12-0 Big Northern East)
Coach: Mark Smith (2nd year, 27-5)
Top returnees: Senior Kathleen Ratzek (5-6 G); juniors Kayla Rafferty (5-8 F), Aly DeTamble (5-9 G/F), Jackie Collins (5-7 G/F), Alison Colby (6-0 C/F); sophomores Kayla Ross (5-7 G/F), Shelby Holt (5-9 F/G), Sam Cruz (5-7 G), Sam Pryor (6-0 F), Becca Gerke (6-0 F).
Top newcomers: Junior Cassi Cifanek (5-7 G).
Outlook: The kids aren't kids anymore. After a run to the Elite Eight in Class 3A last year, expectations are sky high for this season on Rocket Hill and with a toughened-up schedule, come postseason time this is a team that could be ready to take the next step: a trip to Redbird Arena and the Final Four. "We're really excited about the season," said Smith. "With a year under our belts and a tougher schedule, things are looking good." Three starters -- Ross (7.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Colby (7.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Holt (10.5 ppg, 60 3-pointers) return while Pryor (7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Gerke (4.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) logged significant minutes last year. Replacing graduated point guard Camille Dela Cruz won't be easy, but the personnel to do it is there with Cruz, DeTamble and Collins. The defending Big Northern East champs will play in the Dundee-Crown Christmas tournament, as well as a Martin Luther King weekend trip to the McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook, where Smith says he's been informed the Rockets will play Fremd. "We want to play the best competition possible," Smith said. "We keep harping on playing one game at a time and playing hard. We know we'll have a target on our back and we're going to get everyone's best effort. The challenge is not to ride on last year's coat tails. We've gotten better but so has everyone else. We're working as hard if not harder than last year."