Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Mark Fitzgerald (6th year, 74-70)
Last year: 14-15, 3-9 in the SCC Blue Division
Key returnees: Gabi Alfaro, jr., G, Kalie Soris, jr., G, Natalie Droeske, jr., G, Jordyn Sundberg, jr., G, Maggie O'Brien, sr., G/F
Top newcomers: Veronica LaVia, so., G/F, Paige Miller, so, G, Taylor Harazin, fr., C
Outlook: With the graduation of guards Lisa Rodriguez and Alex DeCraene, the Chargers have to replace 48.5 percent of their scoring. While they only have two seniors on the roster, the Chargers' youngsters have talent to build around. Aurora Central's junior class includes three-year varsity player Alfaro plus Soris, Horton, Droeske and Sundberg, who all received significant playing time last year. Fitzgerald is excited about sophomores Miller and LaVia, who, along with the 6-foot-3 freshman Harazin, gives the Chargers plenty of size. "The addition of Harazin makes this year's version of the Chargers the tallest front line in its history," Fitzgerald said. The coach looks at O'Brien as a "rock solid asset to the team." It's going to take doing the little things for the Chargers to get where they want to go. "The goal this year will be to play complete games," Fitzgerald said. "Last year's inconsistent team left several games on the table and they need to pay attention to the little things that make teams win. While not lacking in talent and athleticism, (we) need to learn to play at a high level every game. We are guardedly optimistic that (we) will be a competitive team that will grow each and every game this season and hopefully be a sleeper team come playoff time."
Coach: Jerry Tokars (4th year, 37-43)
Last year: 19-9, 7-3 in the SCC Gold Division, Class 2A regional champions
Key returnees: Alyssa Andersen, sr., G, Melissa Moser, sr., C, Natasha Brown, jr., F, Kirsten Madsen, so., G
Top newcomers: Hannah Dean, jr., F., Charrissa Robinson, sr., G/F
Outlook: Andersen returns after finishing second in the area last year in scoring at 16.5 points per game. The senior also contributed 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 2.7 assists a game. Along with Brown's relentless work on the boards, those were two of the main reasons the Eagles went 19-9 -- the best record in school history. Aurora Christian also won its first conference and regional championships. And of the 15 players on Aurora Christian's roster last year, only one was a senior. Tokars is excited not only about those two but all his returnees. "Several other players return that saw action throughout the season last year," Tokars said. "The desire and confidence is at a high level. We will continue to place an emphasis on being a top defensive team and we will look to use our team speed. Once again, we have a high quality group of young women on and off of the court that make it a pleasure and privilege for me to coach girls basketball here at Aurora Christian." After a history-breaking season last year, Tokars said Immaculate Conception, Wheaton Academy and St. Francis are among the toughest foes in the final season of the Suburban Christian Gold. "It will be sad to see this conference break up next season," Tokars said. "The team last year met all of its goals. The returnees now know that because of their efforts, and of those before them, they can no longer sneak up on teams. They understand that they have to work even harder this year to achieve or surpass the level of success of last season. We expect to compete for the Gold Division title again. Having gotten a taste of sectional play last year, this team wants to experience more this year."
Coach: Kevin Jenson (2nd year, 31-24)
Last year: 18-10, 8-4 in Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Key returnees: Liza Fruendt, sr., G, Erin Bayram, sr., F, Bethany Orman, so., G, Hannah Frazier, so., F/C
Top newcomers: Ana Marchiori, jr., PF, Jessica Koch, so., PF/SF, Shea Bayram, so., PF/SF, Katie Weber, so., G, Madeline Slater, so., PF/SF, Mackenzie Foster, fr., G, Morgan Erickson, fr., G.
Outlook: Batavia might only have two seniors but they are good ones in Fruendt, headed to Missouri State, and Bayram, bound for Boston University. Fruendt is the reigning Upstate Eight Conference River Division Player of the Year and last year's Daily Herald All-Area captain after averaging 20 points a game. Equally dangerous draining 3-pointers or beating opponents off the dribble to get to the basket, Fruendt already has passed 1,000 career points and should finish this year as the most prolific scorer and quite possibly best player in program history. "Liza has a chance to be one of the best players in the area again this year," Jensen said. "With her college choice lined up, I expect her to be very focused on having a great senior year. She's proven already in this young season that she's grown as a leader." Bayram and Frazier provide Batavia a 1-2 punch inside that few teams can match, while Orman gave Batavia a lift off the bench last year with her 3-point shooting and good guard skills and is poised to make a bigger impact now. "Despite having an overall young team, we have great senior leadership," Jensen said. "We have lofty goals and hope to make similar improvements that we've made over the last two seasons. We'll play a tough schedule again this year highlighted by tournaments at Morton, Oswego and Montini." The Bulldogs also add the McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook to their challenging schedule. Batavia has made 5-win improvements in each of Jensen's first two seasons -- if it does it again that puts the Bulldogs at 23 wins. How that stacks up against a local power like Geneva will be one of the best storylines this winter. "Until proven otherwise, Geneva has to be considered the front-runner again this season," Jensen said of the River race. "St. Charles East will have experience and talent to compete with anyone in the conference as well. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a logjam near the top of the conference again this season. We hope to put ourselves in a position to compete for that top sport as well."
Coach: Sarah Meadows (3rd year, 43-17)
Last year: 19-11, 10-2 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division (first), Class 4A St. Charles East regional champion
Key returnees: Sidney Santos, sr., F, Michaela Loebel, sr., G, Morgan Seberger, sr., G, Abby Novak, jr., F, Madeline Dunn, sr., F, Janie McCloughan, jr., F
Top newcomers: Kate Rogers, jr.
Outlook: If the Vikings can ever make it through a season without a devastating season-ending injury, look out. Last year it was starting point guard Michaela Loebel who went down in the fourth game. The previous two seasons the Vikings lost Sidney Santos, and also Ashley Santos for the second half of the 2012 campaign. As good as Geneva has been even with all the injuries, it's a good question how much more hardware could be in the school trophy case if Geneva could just keep its players on the court. Despite all the bad luck, Meadows said it's not something anyone dwells on. "We have hit the weight room a ton in the off-season," Meadows said. "We do not talk about it at all actually. Our kids have put in the time both on the court and in the weight room and they are seeing the benefits of the weight room." The Vikings return Santos who moved to point guard last year when Loebel went down and ended up leading the area with 4.3 assists a game to go with 8.8 points, 5.6 rebounds. 1.2 blocks and a 72.5 percent clip at the free-throw line. She committed to Oakland, a Division I school in Michigan, in August. Added with a three-year varsity sharpshooter like Seberger, an athletic, do-it-all forward like Novak with Loebel back running the team at point and the potential is there for another banner season. "Michaela is going to have a big year," Meadows said. "She is coming off her injury and looks strong. Sidney is our leader and has big plans to finish her career here at Geneva with an exclamation point. Abby played a huge role for our team last year and her and Sid play better and better together every day." McCloughan was called up to the team last year and gave the team a spark with her play inside. "She got some good experience and is ready to play a major role on this team," Meadows said. "Kate Rogers has been working very hard." Meadows has the luxury of being both taller than most teams and also more athletic, so look for Geneva to continue its up-tempo style. "We will push the pace of the game and get up and down," Meadows said. "It will be exciting to watch this group of girls play together. We have the experience on the court." Geneva has owned the Upstate Eight since joining the conference, coming from behind after early losses to St. Charles East and Streamwood last year to again win the title. "Our conference is going to be tough this year," Meadows said. "Batavia will be ready to play. St. Charles East played us extremely tough last year, I do not expect anything different. St. Charles North was young last year so they are bringing those same athletic kids back plus they have a year of experience under their belt. It will be a tough and competitive year on our side."
Coach: Ernie Colombe (8th year)
Last year: 16-11, 7-3 in the Northern Illinois Big XII East
Key returnees: Caroline Heimerdinger, sr., G, Vanessa Gould, so., F, Amber Winquist Bailey, sr., G, Kelly Wallner, sr., C, Marina Schaefer, sr., F
Top newcomers: Ally Van Bogaert, jr., F, Camri Conley, so., G, Bailey Crimmins, so., C, Brittany Kemp, sr., F, Rachel Miller, jr., G, Katie Brinkman, sr., G, Taylor Eaves, jr., F, Emily Grams, jr., G.
Outlook: Kaneland returns five players who contributed to last year's 16-win team hoping to keep the program's momentum going in the right direction. All of those returnees will need to take on greater roles this winter. "Caroline played a key role off the bench for us last year and will be counted on to run the point this year," Colombe said. "Caroline had a great off-season for us and has really improved." Colombe pointed to Winquist-Bailey and Schaefer as two other players who have made strides. "Amber is one of our most improved players form a year ago. She is a tireless worker and put a ton of time in working on her game in the off-season," Colombe said. "Marina has worked hard and has really improved her shooting range." The versatile Gould can help the Knights in a variety of ways while Wallner will be one of the team's top inside threats. "Vanessa has a ton of potential and is a great athlete," Colombe said. "Kelly started down the stretch for us last year in the post and is a great rebounder." There's going to be plenty of playing time available to Kaneland's newcomers. Van Bogaert can play inside or out, while Colombe likes Conley's ability to find the open player. Crimmins is developing her post game and has "tons of potential," said Colombe while Kemp has worked her way back after a knee injury. Miller is a steady player, and Brinkman has improved her shooting. "Katie has the ability to create her own shot and get to the line or hit the 3," Colombe said. Eaves transferred from Aurora Christian and will be one of the team's best defenders. Grams is the younger sister of Sarah Grams, Kaneland's point guard the past two seasons now at Waubonsee Community College. "Emily is a player we feel has improved her ballhandling and shooting over the summer," Colombe said. Overall, Colombe likes how the pieces are fitting together. "This is another great group of kids," Colombe said. "These girls are really working hard and have been getting better since last season ended. We really like the way they have practiced in terms of intensity and effort." Colombe said DeKalb should once again be the team to beat in the Northern Illinois Big XII East.
Coach: Jessie Wilcox (2nd year, 15-12)
Last year: 15-12, 6-4 in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue
Key returnees: Rachel Choice, sr., Emily Bakala, sr., Megan Conlin, jr., Adrienne Winkel, jr., Quincy Kellett, jr.
Top newcomers: Priscilla Betzelos, jr., Taylor Drozdowski, so., Maddie Melby, so., Mary Kate Bakala, fr., Aubrey Fisher, fr.
Outlook: While Rosary has a couple key players to replace like leading scorer Karly Tate and starting point guard Madison Richmond. the Royals do have experience back ready to make their mark. "We expect big things and lots of minutes from all of our returners from last year," Wilcox said. "All of them know they have big shoes to fill. Last year was a transitional year where the kids were trying to feel out my expectations. This year they know what I expect out of them and are taking the challenge head on." Bakala, "the glue that holds everyone together and pushes everyone to compete at their very best on a daily basis," according to Wilcox, is the team captain. Wilcox called Choice her "floor general" who will be expected not only to produce points, "but also to direct and lead by example." Wilcox also has high expectations for her newcomers. "We feel like they can help us both in the backcourt and also in the paint, something we lacked last year," Wilcox said. "We also didn't have very much depth last year off of the bench, this year we foresee we will be able to make rotations and not lose a step in the process." Rosary can count on a tough SCC schedule again including state qualifiers Montini and Walther Christian, the only teams to finish ahead of the Royals last year. Rosary's motto is to get better every day, and if the team does that then Wilcox believes it's possible to surpass last year's 15 wins even with a relatively young roster. "We have a fairly young team with only two seniors and four underclassmen, but we expect our returners to really step up and lead this team by example," Wilcox said. "Last year was a great transitional start for the program, but it is not nearly where we want to be this season or in the future. The girls had a great off-season, we've seen much improvement and we hope to compete with everyone on our schedule."
St. Charles East
Coach: Lori Drumtra (9th year)
Last year: 18-12, 9-3 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Key returnees: Amanda Hilton, sr., PG; Hannah Nowling, sr., F; Kyra Washington, jr., F; Katie Claussner, jr., G; MacKenzie Meadows, sr., G; Keyana Williams, sr., F; Marlena Detzel, sr., G/F.
Top newcomers: Chloe John, jr., F;, Maryn Cheney, jr., F, Katie Robinson, jr., G, Kelly Rinker, so., G, Hannah Vitkus, so., G
Outlook: The Saints are yet another reason the Upstate Eight Conference River Division is going to be fun to watch. They went 9-3 a year ago to tie for second, and they return team MVP Hilton from that squad. Hilton, a four-year varsity standout headed to Nebraska to play soccer, averaged 14.4 points a game and needs just 49 in her career to reach 1,000. "We look for her to continue to run the offense from the point and create havoc on defense," Drumtra said. Hilton is one of three returning starters. Nowling, last year's leading rebounder, also is back. "She is very active on the boards and we look for her to increase her scoring average," Drumtra said. Washington is a versatile player whose defense gives opponents fits. "She will be playing a couple of different positions for us both on the perimeter and inside," Drumtra said. "Her height and length make her a prolific shot blocker and a strong rebounder." Claussner started down the stretch last year and produced some big scoring nights. "She gives us another scoring threat from the perimeter as well as someone who can penetrate the lane and get to the rim," Drumtra said. Drumtra calls Meadows the team's quickest player. The coach is hoping Williams can help the team control the boards, and Drumtra expects Detzel's midrange shot to be an asset for the Saints. Even with all that returning talent, Drumtra said her newcomers will get their time, too. "I feel we have more depth at all positions than ever before," Drumtra said. "We are looking to take advantage of that and play up-tempo and push the ball as much as possible. I feel we are balanced in that we have an abundance of solid outside shooters as well as a strong inside presence." Juniors John and Cheney provide help inside. "Maryn is a strong rebounder and Chloe has some very nice post moves to go along with a good midrange shot," Drumtra said. Robinson transferred from Ohio and has a sweet 3-point stroke while sophomores Rinker and Vitkus provide more scoring potential off the bench. The Saints will need the newcomers and veterans to gel quickly with early tests against Montini and Rockford Boylan before the likes of Geneva and Batavia in River play. "The River Division was very competitive last year and I think it will be that way again," Drumtra said. "Geneva, as the reigning champion, will be the team to beat. Batavia has a strong nucleus coming back as well. Don't count St. Charles North out -- they improved tremendously over the course of last season and will be stronger this year. I think (it) will be a tight race."
St. Charles North
Coach: Sean Masoncup (1st year)
Last year: 8-20, 4-8 in Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Key returnees: Ashling Davern, jr., G; Morgan Rosencrants, so., F; Nichole Davidson, jr., G/F; Kyla Helsel, so., G; Sam Novak, g, jr, Liz McNally, sr. C.
Top newcomers: Sam Henry, g, jr., Lauren Neslund, so, F; Sammy Sample, fr., G/F, Jillian Stephens, G, so.,
Outlook: Masoncup, a basketball and tennis player at Geneva in the late 1990s, the boys tennis coach at St. Charles North and a veteran boys basketball assistant coach at both St. Charles East and St. Charles North, takes over a North Star team that was young last year and looks to be again this season. "Our age could hinder us a little," Masoncup said. "Not knowing girls basketball yet I don't see any weaknesses. I think we are fairly strong at most areas." The North Stars will have their hands full right off the bat, starting with Wheaton North, Prospect, Neuqua Valley, York and Conant at York's Thanksgiving Tournament, and continuing in Upstate Eight River play and also Dundee-Crown's tournament over the Christmas break. "It's (York) a good way to start the season. All the programs are good programs," Masconcup said. "And being in our conference, there's D-I players all over the place. It's definitely a tough schedule. I think it will help us in the long run. It will make us tournament ready early on." Masoncup has been instilling an aggressive style that looks to create a lot of its offense from the defense. "It's going good so far," Masconcup said. "They are learning a new system, a new way to play. It's a lot of teaching and a lot of getting through it and getting our legs underneath us as we practice and try to put our style of basketball in. We're going to be up-tempo. We're going to play hard on-the-ball defense and try to get our transition game going too." Rosencrants and Davidson both were consistent starters last year in their first season on varsity and have the potential to be steady double-digit scorers, while Novak came on strong last year with her outside shooting skills. "It (the up-tempo attack) feeds into their hand because they are both athletic girls," Masoncup said. "When we run set offense we'll look to them." Of the newcomers, Masconcup said Sample is going to give the team offense off the bench despite only being a freshman while Stephens and Neslund are both soccer players who will be big additions. "They can be defensive stoppers," Masconcup said. "They have quick feet." Overall, Masconcup likes what he sees. "Our athleticism is a strong suit at every position, and at every position we have girls that can compete," Masconcup said. "I think our willingness to compete is another strength. I think our youth is our strength. They want to get better every day."
Coach: Connie Siljendahl (9th year, 82-109)
Last year: 9-16, 4-10 in the DuPage Valley Conference
Key returnees: Alexis Wiggins, jr., G, Taylor Jacobsen, sr., G, Abriya Zeitz, sr., F, Erin Jacobsen, sr., G, Natalee DeJohnette, jr., F, Elizabeth Skaggs, sr., F
Top newcomers: Ashley Williams, so., G, Joslyn Noel, jr., F, JeMya McClendon, fr., F, Julianna Malone, sr., G.
Outlook: The Blackhawks enter the season with a core group of seniors who have been playing varsity basketball since they were freshmen. They are eager to end their West Aurora career on a high note. With Zeitz and Skaggs inside, the Blackhawks have one of the best post games around with two players who could average a double-double this winter. Siljendahl is also excited about what the new faces can provide to the team in terms of upping the tempo. "Our newcomers will bring us a much faster pace," Siljendahl said. This is the Blackhawks' final winter of DuPage Valley Conference play, and they are poised to go out much better than how last year went, even with elite teams like Wheaton Warrenville South. "The DVC is always very tough and full of talented basketball players," Siljendahl said.