Crystal Lake South Gators
Last year: 23-7 (9-3 FVC Valley)
Coach: Kyle McCaughn (13th year, 181-176)
Top returning players: Seniors Sara Mickow (5-11, C), Rachel Rasmussen (5-6, G); junior Carly Nolan (5-11, F); sophomore Chanel Fanter (5-9, G)
Key newcomers: Juniors Gaby DeJesus (5-1, G), Lauren Gauger (5-7, F), Hailee Massie (5-7, F), Kianna Clark (5-8, G)
Outlook: South has no shortage of returning talent this season. Mickow (12.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Rasmussen (9.0 ppg) are both two-year returning starters, while Fanter started just about every game last season as a freshman. McCaughn has been pleased with the development of Nolan, who helped lead the Gators to a fourth-place finish at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament. She started toward the end of last season. Newcomers DeJesus, Gauger, Massie and Clark aren't truly newcomers. They all were on the varsity as sophomores last season. "Experience is going to help us," said McCaughn. "So will competitiveness. Carly and Sara are just coming back from the volleyball team that made it Downstate. They know about the hard work it takes to win at that high level. That is going to help us and so will the team's overall knowledge of our offense and defense. These girls have a good understanding of each other and what we want to accomplish. It's a wonderful group of girls who are hardworking and coachable and willing to listen and take on challenges and do what they need to do in order to take the next step and be a contender for the conference title." McCaughn said in order to get to that next step, the team must get past area standouts Huntley and Cary-Grove. "The potential for this team is there," he said. "The makings for a nice season are there. As far as what place we could finish in, the reality is we lost to Cary and Huntley twice last year. Until we beat those teams you can't put yourself there. Right now we're on the outside looking in until we prove we can play with the two best teams in our area and that's Huntley and Cary-Grove." Mickow has averaged a double-double in points and rebounds in each of the last two years. McCaughn also noted Fanter has improved her outside game considerably this season.