By John Lemon
Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Mark Fitzgerald
Last year: 16-14
Top returning athletes: Seniors Alex Johnston (G, 5-8), Taylor Harazin (C, 6-3), Sabrina Ganofsky (C, 6-2), Gina Cortino (G), Shakira Del Toro (F, 5-10), Julianna Velazquez (G, 5-6); Juniors Madeline Bunger (C, 6-0), Tatyanna Smith (F, 6-0)
Top newcomers: Freshman Delani Kosner (G, 5-7)
Outlook: Fitzgerald said the Chargers will field a tall and experienced team with six seniors who combined for 69 percent of the team's scoring last season. "Team height will not be an issue," Fitzgerald said. Harazin led the team in scoring (10.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.3 rpg) last year. The Charger running the show once again will be Johnston (7.5 ppg, 3.6 apg). "Her aggressiveness, ballhandling skills and court awareness will be greatly needed for the team to take advantage of its commanding height," Fitzgerald said. The veteran coach is looking for Cortino, a third-year varsity player, Velazquez and Kosner to handle a lot of perimeter minutes. "This trio gives us the outside shooting threat that we need to keep teams from packing in the paint," Fitzgerald said. "This inside/outside game will hopefully pay dividends." Fitzgerald is expecting his team to contend in the Metro Suburban Conference. The Chargers will be the smallest school at the Chicago Heights Marian Catholic Holiday tournament and play Neuqua Valley, Joliet Catholic and Bloom. "We feel that challenging our kids with this level of competition really helped us last year and we wanted to continue with that again this year," Fitzgerald said.
Coach: Burney Wilkie
Last year: 14-13, 8-1 in the Northeastern Athletic Conference
Top returning athletes: Junior Paris Chaney (G/F, 5-6); Sophomore Tori Henning (G, 5-8)
Top newcomers: Juniors Alexandra Fry (G, 5-7), Megan Hart (F, 5-11); Sophomore Dannielle Lopez (C, 6-0); Freshman Noelle Chaney (F, 5-9)
Outlook: The Eagles enter the season much more inexperienced than the past few. Henning will be a key after a promising freshman season when she averaged 7 points and 7 rebounds while making second team all-conference. "Tori has a chance to have a breakout year," Wilkie said. "She does a great job of getting to the basket and has improved her shooting this off-season." Chaney is the only other player who saw significant time last year, averaging 5 points and 7 rebounds. She made honorable mention all-conference, and her coach is looking for her to make a big jump offensively. "Paris is the team's best defender and is explosive in getting to the basket," Wilkie said. "I would expect her to be a double digit scorer this year." Wilkie knows the Eagles are short on experience but isn't letting that lower expectations. "We are a very young team with only three seniors," Wilkie said. "We will start three juniors and two sophomores. We are very big and athletic, and like to play an up-tempo style. We may struggle some at the start of the year, but I expect us to be very competitive by the end of the season. These girls have lofty goals, and we are looking to make our deepest run in the state tournament in school history."
Coach: Dave Mello
Last year: 22-8, 10-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors Sarah Jurek (G), Taylor Tomasek (G/F), Kasia Oberzud (G/F), Ashley Gal (G); Junior Kayla Hare (G)
Top newcomers: Senior Brooke Bednarke (G); Juniors Danielle Kleeman (G/F), Miranda Hedeen (G), Meghan Colley (F/C), Jennifer Carbery (F/C); Sophomores Teagan Noesen (G), Paige Bednarke (G)
Outlook: The Hawks won the Upstate Eight Valley and a regional championship in Mello's first season before losing to Montini. Hare averaged 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.1 steals while sinking 57 3-pointers. "She will be our go-to girl," Mello said. The rest of the returnees combined to average just 4 points. "Sarah gained some experience last season, was our second leading scorer of the returners," Mello said of her 1.7 average. The coach is looking for rebounding and scoring from both Tomasek and Oberzud, and 3-point shooting from Gal. Brooke Bednarke is a good story, playing her first high school season after two ACL injuries. "She provides quickness and leadership," Mello said, while adding about Paige Bednarke, "she can shoot from deep but also use strength to get baskets underneath." Colley and Carbery provide "some much-needed height." Speaking of inside play, Kleeman "plays exceptionally tough underneath despite giving away height." Having graduated nine players, it might take the Hawks longer than most teams to peak. "Our goal is to compete for the conference championship once again and to be playing our best basketball entering the postseason," Mello said. "There will be a growing period early in the season. However, the strength of our early schedule (Benet, Naperville Central, St. Charles East) will give us ample opportunity to gauge where we stand and what we need to keep improving on." Mello said defending the Valley championship won't be easy. "Our conference is going to be very good as Glenbard East, South Elgin and West Aurora all have a lot of high level talent. East Aurora and West Chicago will continue to improve," Mello said. "A couple of our key words this year are 'compete' and 'winasone.' We are stressing each and every day that they compete no matter the drill, the score. Also, we are stressing that we have to be one unified team. That is what fans should expect to see on a nightly basis -- competing until the final horn and playing as a team."
Coach: Kevin Jensen
Last year: 26-6, 11-1 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors Mackenzie Foster (G, 5-8), Stephanie Rodriguez (G, 5-7), Morgan Erickson (G, 5-6), Elena Cabrera (G, 5-8), Alex Piron (G, 5-7), Kaley Lorenz (F, 5-11), Shannon King (F, 5-9); Sophomores Geddy Rerko (F, 6-0), Hailey Orman (G, 5-6)
Top newcomers: Junior Jordan Cafaro (F, 5-9); Sophomores Jenna Lauglin (G, 5-9), Ava Sergio (F, 6-0), Allison Newberry (G, 5-8); Freshmen Erin Golden (G, 5-7), Katherine Polick (G, 5-8)
Outlook: The Bulldogs have a tough act to follow after tying Geneva for the Upstate Eight River championship, winning a regional championship and also the Marian Catholic Christmas Tournament. "We are coming off of one of the most successful seasons in school history," Jensen said. Four of the five starters graduated including Hannah Frazier, now at St. Louis University after setting Batavia's school scoring record. It's going to take a team effort to replace that kind of production. "We will look for a large group of seniors to draw from last year's experience and step into new roles," Jensen said. "Along with those seniors, we have a group of sophomores with a lot of skill and potential. We look to make great strides throughout the season." Foster is the one returning starter and is a four-year varsity player, as is Rodriguez and Erickson. "She will have an even bigger role this year," Jensen said. Erickson is stepping into the point guard spot. Cabrera is coming off season-ending knee surgery. "She will eventually be a big contributor to our team," Jensen said. Sophomores Rerko and Orman are two keys to Batavia's success. "Geddy is looking to fill in as a dominant post player the Bulldogs lost," Jensen said. "Hailey will look to be one of the top shooters in the area." Of the newcomers, Jensen likes Lauglin's versatility, and Sergio is a 6-foot post player who can complement Rerko.
Last year: 26-5, 14-0 in the Big Northern
Top returning athletes: Seniors Maddie Drescher (G, 5-7)
Top newcomers: Juniors Hannah Overmyer (G, 5-6), Madalyn Schultz (F, 5-8), Atashi Bhungalia (F, 5-9); Sophomore Kenzie West (F, 5-11); Freshmen Kat Schmidt (G/F, 6-0), Zoey Kollhoff (G, 5-9)
Outlook: Few teams can match what Burlington Central has done -- Smith is 105-20 in his four years -- and no team comes into the season with more production to replace. The Rockets graduated all five starters, four of whom are playing college basketball: Kayla Ross (Olivet Nazarene), Shelby Holt (Quincy University), Sam Pryor (Western Illinois), Becca Gerke (Elmhurst College) and Sam Cruz. Drescher is the lone senior on the roster and one of five new starters. "We are young and inexperienced, but are looking forward to playing in our new conference, the Kishwaukee River Conference," Rockets coach Mark Smith said. That new conference includes some of the Rockets' competition from the Big Northern, including the team Smith calls the favorite. "Johnsburg has four starters back from a sectional championship team. They should win the conference," Smith said. "Marengo and Richmond-Burton should be much improved. Woodstock and Woodstock North, coming from the Fox Valley Conference, should also be very competitive."
Coach: Rod Saffert
Last year: 12-17, 4-6 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning athletes: Seniors Katie Demert (G/F, 5-6), Becca Kendeigh (G/F, 5-7); Juniors Katie Sowa (G/F, 6-0), Maddie Gorz (G/F, 5-7), Abby Getka (G/F, 5-8), Nicollette Richardi (G/F, 5-3), Vanessa Morris (PG/F, 5-5), Ally Raupp (G/F, 5-8); Sophomore Bailey Steinkamp (PG/F, 5-6)
Top newcomer: Sophomore Elsa Larry (G/F, 5-7)
Outlook: The Trojans are one of the more experienced teams. They graduated Jen Pilut and Olivia Miller from a squad that won the Mundelein Holiday Classic consolation championship. But they do have several key players back including Demert who returned late in the season last year and helped the team go 8-2 down the stretch. Sowa made all-conference after averaging 11.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and shooting 86 percent at the line. Gorz averaged 7 points and 5.3 rebounds, and Kendeigh averaged 7.4 points and 3 rebounds. Richardi and Morris both chipped in over 3 points a game. "These Lady Trojans knew that unless they cared a whole awful lot in the off-season, we weren't going to get better. They got that message loud and clear and have been working hard since the end of last year. Anything's possible when you practice and play with intensity and enthusiasm, and these girls understand that very well," said Saffert, in his 11th year as head coach and 24th in the program."We fully expect to give everything we have in every game. We are a very close team that wants to become a contender in the conference again.That cohesiveness will be a huge strength going forward this upcoming season. We were not healthy for much of last year, so, if our core eight or nine can maintain their health, we can be very successful." Saffert points to Huntley as the team to beat in conference with Crystal Lake South and Dundee-Crown in the mix.
Crystal Lake South
Coach: Mark Mucha
Last year: 23-10, 7-3
Top returning athletes: Seniors Annika Sevcik (F, 5-10), Taylor Jozefowicz (G, 5-5), Kelly Gaede (G, 5-9)
Top newcomers: Sophomore Maddie Bush (G, 5-8)
Outlook: The Gators return four of five starters, but the one who graduated -- Chanel Fanter -- will be missed. Sevcik leads the way among the returnees after averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds last year. "We return eight players," Mucha said. "We will be looking to our seniors who have a lot of varsity experience to carry us in what is going to be a very competitive Fox Valley Conference. Switching from two different divisions to only one sets up a very competitive Fox Valley Conference."
Coach: Lee Clayborn
Last year: 10-15
Top returning athletes: Seniors Maya Hobson, Jeanette Villezcas, Alexis Bee, Elise Robinson, Carmilia Ortiz, Miriam Ramirez; Juniors Cynthia Navarro, Dearra Brown
Top newcomers: Junior Kameron Clayborn, Jasmine Underwood, Linda Nevarez, Carlynn Lamas, Cecile Fleming, Fatima Monroy, Emily Erazo; Freshmen Tatiana Ocasio, Barakat Adekola
Outlook: Third in the Upstate Eight Valley last year, the Tomcats have experience on their side this winter. "The fans can expect a fast and exciting brand of basketball," Clayborn said. "Our goal is to get better every day and become more competitive throughout the season this year. We're solid at guard but will need to rely on senior experience to help lead a very group of talented underclassmen." Jeanette Villezcas is the top returning scorer after averaging 14 points a game. Hobson added 10 points plus 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 5 assists. Brown chipped in 8 points and 3 steals. "This off-season the team has made some tremendous strides from last season's team," Clayborn said. "They all made a great effort in the summer and off-season by showing up. As a team we're looking to improve upon last season's record."
Coach: Dr. Nick Bumbales
Last year: 3-25, 1-11 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors: Genesis Alfaro (G, 5-0), Ali Reynolds (F, 5-10); Juniors: Kylie Graves (F, 5-9), Raechel Untalan (PG, 5-8), Lola Quadri (C, 5-11), Makenna Downing (G, 5-7)
Top newcomers: Juniors Gabby Pierre-Louis (F, 5-9), Yaseli Jaimes (G, 5-5), Dulce Ocampo (G, 5-1), Ayesha Khan (G, 5-2); Sophomores Kamiya Harvey (G, 5-6), Dajha Cooper (C, 6-0), Emily Graves (F, 5-8)
Outlook: The Maroons must replace Lakiya Harvey (10.1 points per game, 4.7 rpg, University of Dubuque) and Alisha Pantheir (9.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Tianna Stewart (7.8 ppg) -- a very significant portion of last year's production. Graves, Untalan and Quadri will be the tri-captains, but of that group Untalan was the leading scorer at 3.4 ppg. "We lost the majority of scoring, but we look to be a more team-oriented defensive team," Bumbales said. "Our hopes rest on young, unproven players." Bumbales said some keys to watch are taking control of the ball, improved defense and a more patient offense. "Kylie is a dynamic leader who is tenacious defensively," Bumbales said. "Raechel started the second half of the season and proved over the summer that she is capable of being a primary scorer and also take care of the ball. Lola is the epitome of a grinder and will be a strong force inside." Bumbales said Alfaro and Downing will provide outside shooting. Of the newcomers, Bumbales said Graves has the potential to make the biggest impact on both ends of the court.
Coach: Jill Kowalyszyn
Last year: 2-18 overall, 0-6 in the Independent School League
Top returning athletes: Seniors Gia Joyce (5-11, F/C); Kalia Higa (5-4, PG); Junior Haley Dulabaum (5-6, F); Sophomores Renee Scimeca (5-2, PG); Lauryn Yost (5-6, F/G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Madeline Sporina (5-9, F); Michelle Peyton (5-9, F); Freshmen Elizabeth Sporina (5-9, F); Lauren Rana (5-3, G); Marina Aristodemo (5-7, F/G); Nira Suvagia (5-3, G); Maddy Noble-Stas (5-5, F)
Outlook: After serving as the assistant coach the past three years, Kowalyszyn begins her first year as head coach. She will have to replace point guard Liz Huerta and forward Roma Hameed, but she does have her leading scorer back in Higa, who also topped the team in steals. Joyce is back as well after leading Elgin Academy in rebounds and blocked shots. "Our goals are to become a more well rounded and respected team than previous years," Kowalyszyn said. "We have been dedicating hours on the court to work on developing our skills and fundamentals. Positive attitudes, dedication and determination to compete and win this year have been our main focus. Most of our weaknesses develop from not having younger level programs to help build our skill level. Our girls jump right into the varsity level of competition. Looking forward to a great season and great competitors." Kowalyszyn is excited about the overall numbers in the program. "For the first time in six seasons we have a big enough squad to form a JV and varsity team," Kowalyszyn said. Kowalyszyn said Latin and U-High will provide the toughest competition.
Coach: Sarah Miller
Last year: 15-18
Top returning athletes: Seniors Paige Gieseke, Allison Michalski, Lucy Atherton; Juniors Maddie Tripp, Anna Kieltyka, Kennedy White, Mikayla Hrinowich, Tori Koniewicz, Kendall Schmidt
Top newcomers: Freshmen: Cassidy Randl, Payton Schmidt, Katelyn Skibinski
Outlook: After back-to-back regional championships, the Chargers are hoping to do it again. The 6-foot Gieseke is a reason why, getting looks from Division I schools according to Chargers coach Sarah Miller. She averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds last year. Michalski also has potential to play in college after averaging 13 points and 5 rebounds a game as a junior. Dundee-Crown already suffered a tough break when senior Kendall Schmidt, who was returning from an ACL tear, tore the same ACL this summer and is out for the year. The Chargers will try to overcome that loss. "High expectations for this season and competing for a top spot in conference," Miller said. "Should be competitive and the girls have set high goals for themselves. We are excited to begin competing."
Coach: Sarah Meadows
Last year: 25-5, 11-1
Top returning athletes: Senior Grace Loberg, (C, 6-2); Juniors Margaret Whitley (G, 5-9), Stephanie Hart (G, 5-8), Maddie Yelle (G/F, 5-9), Brie Borkowicz (G, 5-5)
Top newcomer: Juniors Madison Mallory (F, 6-0)
Outlook: The Vikings are coming off an eighth straight sectional appearance, and they are poised to make it nine in a row with a team capable of a state run. They once again have an elite inside/outside combo. The 6-2 Loberg inside averaged 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds a game while Whitley (13.3 ppg, 2.8 assists per game) and Hart (6.8 ppg, 3.4 apg) provide plenty of firepower in the backcourt. All three have been in Geneva's starting lineup since they were freshmen. Loberg, a Wisconsin recruit for volleyball, is a four-time All-Area volleyball player and 3-time All-Area basketball selection. "We are looking forward to getting Grace on the court," Meadows said. "She will have another great year. She brings so much to our team. It will be fun to watch her, her senior year." Whitley has impressed Meadows with her off-season work. "Margaret looks different this year," Meadows said. "She has grown, she is stronger, her ball skills have improved." Hart is a key on both ends of the court. "Steph is playing some of the best basketball I have seen her play," Meadows said. "She had an awesome summer and continues to work on her game. She will run our team from the point. She keeps us composed and under control. Her defense was fun to watch this summer." Geneva also got a boost when Mallory transferred from Montini, the team who beat Geneva in last year's sectional championship game. Borkowicz hit one of the most memorable shots in school history in the sectional, a 3-pointer in the final seconds that forced overtime of an eventual win over rival Batavia. Yelle provides steady play on both ends. "Great group of kids," Meadows said. "Our young kids are now upperclassmen. They have two years of varsity experience and are ready to go. We are athletic, we have playmakers on this team. We will always be looking to improve defensively. We want to play fast and you will see us work hard on both ends of the court. We are thinking we will have a deep and solid bench this year."
Coach: Mike Featherly (4th year, 53-32)
Last year: 20-9; 2nd in Fox Valley Conference
Top returning athletes: Seniors Rachel Dumoulin (G/F, 5-9), Maggie Goad (G, 5-6), Kiera Guerrero-Gay (G, 5-6), Meagan Heine (F, 5-10), Hunter Penrod (F, 6-1), Erin Doyle (G, 5-6), Katie Swichtenberg (G, 5-7)
Top newcomers: Juniors Lauren Herrmann (G, 5-8), McKenzie Rasmussen (G/F, 5-8), Nicole Jachec (F, 5-9), Sam Johnson (F, 5-10); Sophomores Sarah Bowen (G/F, 5-9), Ally Cermak (G, 5-4)
Outlook: The Whip-Purs enter the season with a large senior class that played a key role in last year's 20-win season, though Domoulin is the only returning starter. She averaged 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds a game. "She has developed an all-around game and is extremely intelligent on the court," Featherly said. Heine, Guerrero-Gay and Goad all saw significant playing time last year. Heine averaged 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds a game. "We have a good core of players returning from last year's team that are looking to continue the success we have had the past few seasons," Featherly said. "With the addition of the new players, we have a balanced attack offensively and can pressure teams defensively. They have been coming to practice eager to get better every day which will make us a competitive team throughout the year." The Whip-Purs also are preparing for a new look conference-wise. "It feels like the first year of joining the Fox Valley Conference all over again," Featherly said. "With the combination of both sides of the conference and Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake Central having new head coaches, it's like we are the newcomers again. But we expect to compete in every Fox Valley game."
Harvest Christian Academy
Coach: Rich DeTamble
Last year: 23-8, 8-0 in the Northeastern Athletic Conference
Top returning athletes: Senior Katie Kaldenberger (F/C, 6-2); Juniors Alyssa Iverson (G, 5-8) Nygia Pollard (G/F, 5-7); Sophomore Jen Kasper (G/F, 5-9)
Top newcomers: Sophomore Gracie Ozburn (G, 5-6); Freshman Maddy Martin (G, 5-9)
Outlook: NAC undefeated conference champions the past two years, the Lions have the big shoes of Paulina Castro (NIU) to fill. Iverson is a good place to start, generating Division I interest after averaging 16 points, 3 assists and 4 steals a game last year. "We are trying to build off the last two years' momentum and continue to advance in the IHSA tournament," DeTamble said. "We are going to rely on our senior Katie Kaldenberger and junior Alyssa Iverson, as well as our veteran juniors. We will rely on our relentless defense and speed on offense to get us through the season and for a deep run in the playoffs. The increase in talent in our area and conference from top to bottom will provide some tough competition. The NAC has gotten better from top to bottom each year and will be tough competition from each team."
Coach: Steve Raethz
Last year: 30-4, 10-0 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning athletes: Seniors Morgan Clausen (F, 6-1), Maddy Moffett (G, 5-8), Abbey Brown (G, 5-8), Kaylee Andrea (G, 5-4), Grace Gajewski (G, 5-8), Ashlyn Schlapia (G, 5-8); Juniors Mallory Moffett (G, 5-8), Jackie Dorin (G/F, 5-10); Sophomore Missy Moffett (G, 5-8)
Top newcomers: Juniors Katie Bessey (F, 5-9), Bridget Dwyer (F, 5-10), McKenzie Krich (G, 5-10); Freshman Janelle Allen (F, 6-1)
Outlook: After shattering the Huntley record books, Ali Andrews is now at the University of Illinois, but the Red Raiders still return a solid core. Clausen, committed to Brown University, was the second-leading rebounder and scorer from last season, a FVC All-Conference selection, and a 4-year varsity player and 3-year starter. Brown is another 4-year varsity player who tore her ACL last December but has been cleared to play. "She is working hard to round into form and get back to 100 percent," Raethz said. Maddy Moffett is a returning starter who has played three years of varsity basketball. Andrea, Gajewski and Mallory Moffett all played minutes last year in a reserve role. Dorin and Missy Moffett moved up to varsity the last eight games of the season. With so much experience, the Red Raiders don't have room for many newcomers. But Allen could be the exception. "She has size, skill and athleticism and will help make an immediate impact in the low post for our team this season," Raethz said. "She has the potential to be a very good player for our program if she continues to work on her game." Raethz knows the returning players need to expand their role this year. "Despite starting the season at less than full strength, our team is working hard to improve each day and build team chemistry and cohesiveness," Raethz said. "Although our team has two returning starters from last season and several players who saw minutes in a reserve role, our players are working hard at redefining their roles for the upcoming season. Although we have a lot of room to improve as a team, we have a hardworking group of kids and we need to compete each night to put ourselves in a position to be successful. Our goals as a team are to challenge for a conference title and steadily improve throughout the season." That conference race promises to have a new look. "I believe the FVC race will be extremely competitive this year," Haethz said. "Dundee-Crown returns four starters from last season's team and teams like Prairie Ridge, Cary-Grove, Jacobs, and McHenry have improved. The conference season is going to be a real grind now that we are playing a 16-game conference schedule, and I foresee a lot of competitive games and it will be imperative to bring our best effort each night."
Coach: Joe Benoit
Last year: 10-16, 4-6 in FVC
Top returning athletes: Seniors Carly Sidor (G, 5-8), Maggie Grady (F), Nicole Durben (G); Junior Kerri Healy (G)
Top newcomers: Sophomore Meghan Lemke (G, 5-5); Freshmen Kyra Cabusao (G, 5-5), Elizabeth Schwartz (G, 5-4)
Outlook: Jacobs is coming off a season of taking steps forward. The four conference wins were its most in seven years. The Golden Eagles went 2-2 at the Wheaton North Christmas Tournament for first time since 2010. Gone are point guard Talia Surges and forward Teaghan Richman, but Jacobs has two key four-year varsity players back in Sidor and Grady. Sidor missed two-thirds of last season with an injury, averaging 9.3 points, 2 steals and 3 rebounds a game. "She is the leader of our team," the fifth-year coach Benoit said. "She is asked to play a number of positions for us and is our vocal leader on and off the floor." Benoit called Grady his defensive anchor who averaged 6 rebounds a game. Durben nailed 38 three-pointers while averaging 6.3 points a game, and Healy scored 5 points per game. "We are really looking forward to this season," Benoit said. "We have a great core group of seniors that have great chemistry together. Our mix of experience and youth is a fun a blend to have and these girls have responded to our challenges at practice early on. Our girls are excited to prove they belong with the top teams in a really tough FVC."
Coach: Ernie Colombe
Last year: 23-5
Top returning athletes: Seniors Kylie Modaff (F, 6-0); Morgan Weber (5-6, G); Carley Elliott (5-7, F); Juniors Jenni Weber (5-9, G); Jamie Martens (5-6, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Grace Ringel (6-1, C); Addie Ringel (6-1, C); Abby Taylor (5-5, G); Katrina Van Horn (5-5, G); Sophomores Bryanna Kigyos (5-7, F); Hannah Armin (5-5, G); Maddy Wheatley (5-5, G)
Outlook: Kaneland returns three core players from one of its best teams. Jenni Weber, Morgan Weber and Modaff combined for 20.3 points led by Jenni Weber, who scored 7.2 points a game, making 33 percent of her 3-point attempts to go with 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists a game. "One of the areas's best 3-point shooters," Colombe said. "She has really worked hard to develop her game this off-season. Her shooting really opens up the floor for us." Modaff was right behind at 7 points a game plus a 2.0 rebound average. "Kylie is another player who really put a lot of time in during the off-season to develop her game," Colombe said. "She has the ability to score inside or outside and creates mismatches for us." Morgan Weber is a veteran in the Knights' lineup with averages last year of 6.1 points and 3.5 rebounds while totaling 54 steals. "Morgan is one of the best competitors we have had in the program," Colombe said. "She has been one of the top defenders in the area the past few seasons." As a sophomore Martens made 74 percent of her free throws with averages of 2.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists with 41 steals. "Jamie grew a lot as a player last year while playing behind Carmi Conley at the point," Colombe said. "She is one of the best athletes we have in the building. We feel she can be one of the best guards in the area if she continues to progress like she has." Elliott averaged 1.5 points and 1.4 rebounds last year. "Carley is a great athlete," Colombe said. "She rebounds well and can run the floor and finish. We feel like she will step into a much bigger role this season for us." Of the newcomers, Grace Ringel could provide some key help inside. "Grace has a ton of potential," Colombe said. "She can score inside and out and handles the ball very well. We feel like she could really be a big-time player for us this season if she continues to work hard. Addie also has a ton of potential. We feel like she has improved her post game and is a big factor on the defensive end of the court with her shot blocking ability." Juniors Taylor and Van Horn will provide depth at guard, and three sophomores will be called up. Colombe said Kigyos is an "excellent rebounder for her height. She is always in the gym and is as coachable as they come." As for Armin, "we feel like she will be an impact player before the year is over," and Wheatley "is capable of being a lock down defender. She is very fast and very athletic and can create easy scoring opportunities for us," according to Colombe. Overall, Colombe is optimistic as long as Kaneland can find some help inside to go with its 3-point: threats. "We feel like we can continue to have success if we can stay healthy," Colombe said. "We feel like offensively we have a lot of weapons. If we share the ball good things will happen. The key will be how well this group buys into what we do defensively and how well we can rebound."
Coach: Steve Knapp
Last year: 9-19, 2-10 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors Marlee Kyles (G, 5-8), Shawniece Douglas (F, 5-10), Layla Wisser (F); Junior Haley Bohne (G, 5-6)
Top newcomers: Seniors Vina Shee (G, 5-2), Haley Casebeer (F, 5-9); Junior Val Pizana (F, 5-9); Freshmen Brianna Young (G, 5-10), Aaliyah Dixon (G, 5-10)
Outlook: The Royals possess one of the most dynamic players around in Kyles, signed with Arizona University. She averaged 21.2 points last year and entered the season with 1,317 career points, just under 100 away from breaking Kiley Holtz's school record of 1,405. Bohne is a "hard-nosed player with tremendous physicality," according to Knapp. She averaged 6.5 points last year. Douglas will be counted on for rebounding. She averaged 7.8 points last year. Knapp complimented Wisser's work ethic. Casebeer is returning from an ACL injury, and "has size and the ability to shoot outside," Knapp said. The coach likes Shee's speed and defense, and is looking for Pizana to help with post defense. Young and Dixon provide size and a variety of skills as freshmen. "We have some young talent coming in and a strong senior class which should bode well for us throughout the season," Knapp said. "We will get better as the year progresses and I feel we have a chance to compete in the conference. Marlee is top five in the state and ranked 23rd in the nation for point guards. With her leadership and the strength of our seniors, we should turn some heads this year. One thing that people will notice is how athletic and tall we are. I haven't seen a girls team with the size we have and the athleticism that we have. It should be a great year for the Lady Royals."
Coach: Phil VanBogaert
Last year: 14-16, 3-5 in the Greater Chicagoland Athletic Conference
Top returning athletes: Seniors Lauren Smith (F/C, 5-9), Mary Kate Bakala (G, 5-6), Caitlyn Unruh (PG, 5-3); Junior Jenna Hernandez (G, 5-5)
Top newcomer: Freshman Zoe Ketterman (C, 5-11)
Outlook: VanBogaert, with John McAdams as his assistant, begins his first year as Rosary's varsity coach. He has spent four seasons as the Royals' sophomore/JV coach. The Royals have to replace Taylor Drozdowski but have experience in the backcourt with Hernandez, an all-conference selection. Seniors Bakala and Unruh also will be counted on to handle the ball. "Mary Kate is a scrappy defender with outstanding athletic ability," VanBogaert said. "Caitlyn is a slashing point guard, outstanding passer." Up front, VanBogaert called Smith a "versatile forward/center with inside/outside scoring potential," and he said the freshman Ketterman "will provide a strong post presence." VanBogaert pegged Resurrection as a team to watch in the GCAC. "Returning eight players from last season's roster, this team is looking to build on their experience from last year," VanBogaert said. "We intend to play an up-tempo game and capitalize on our strengths which include rebounding and defense. We will need to take care of the ball and minimize turnovers. We need a balance of scoring from all players."
St. Charles East
Coach: Lori Drumtra
Last year: 14-15 overall; 6-6 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors Samantha Munroe (G, 5-6), Marissa Urso (G, 5-4), Rose Bundy (G/F, 5-7), Brooke Wellman (G, 5-6); Junior Sara Rosenfeldt (F, 6-0); Sophomore Ashley DiOrio (G/F, 5-8)
Top newcomers: Juniors Nicole Jordan (G, 5-6), KC Weinzirl (G, 5-6), Rose Stackhouse (G, 5-6), Grace Westerhoff (F, 5-7); Sophomores Emily Vitkus (F, 6-0), Taylor Shead (F, 5-8)
Outlook: Drumtra, who is retiring this year, begins her final year coaching the Saints. "I am really looking forward to this season," Drumtra said. "This is a wonderful group of girls to finish up with." Rosenfeldt is as good as it gets. She has started every game since she was a freshman and led the team in scoring (14.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.6) last year. "Sara draws a lot of attention from defenses and we hope to better capitalize on that this year," Drumtra said. Munroe is another third-year varsity player who averaged 4 assists and 8 points last year. "As Sam and Sara go, so does our team," Drumtra said. The Saints will need others to step up, and Urso could be one of them. "Marissa will be one of our top scorers," Drumtra said. "She has dramatically improved in her ability to get into the lane and get open for the three. She makes up for her lack of size with quickness." DiOrio is one of the best defenders on the team according to Drumtra, possessing "the quickness to guard on the perimeter and the strength to play inside." Bundy has worked her way back from a knee injury. Sophomores Vitkus and Shead bring some size. "Emily gives us some height inside; she has improved a lot on her post moves," Drumtra said. "Taylor played on the freshman team last year; she will help us on the inside and on the boards." Drumtra said Jordan and Weinzirl will help on the perimeter. "We hope to improve on last year's record," Drumtra said. "We have multiple offensive weapons this year so I think it will be hard to defensively focus on just one or two players. We are definitely lacking in size, but what we lack in size we will make up for in our defensive pressure. This team plays very well together and likes to move the ball up and down the court."
St. Charles North
Coach: Mike Tomczak
Last year: 19-9, 7-5 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors Sami Sample (SF, 5-8), Cam Pozna (F, 5-8); Juniors Lizzy Olsem (C/PF, 6-0), Grace Quinn (PG, 5-7), Anna Davern (C/PF, 6-2)
Top newcomers: Junior Kelly Jakaitis (C, 6-3); Sophomore Annie Tate (G/F, 5-7); Freshman Jaz Harmon (G/F, 5-7)
Outlook: After three years under Sean Masoncup, the North Stars turn to a new coach. Tomczak is a 2001 Wheaton North graduate. He was the varsity assistant with the North Stars last year, and he also has coaching experience at Glenbard North and Conant. Tomczak teaches at St. Charles East. "St. Charles North has been outstanding so far," Tomczak said. "We have a truly gifted coaching staff who are invested and willing to give so much of their time and energy for the benefit of our program and our culture. Administration has been extremely supportive." The North Stars reached a regional final last year before losing to Geneva. "This group of players and coaches has genuinely made me look forward to each and every day since off-season training began back in spring," Tomczak said. "I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many selfless and passionate individuals. I am consistently impressed by the maturity and ownership displayed by our players on a daily basis. We are all extremely excited about the upcoming season." Tomczak said the North Stars will look to push the ball at every opportunity. "Brand new offensive system with an emphasis on up-tempo play style," Tomczak said. "Fans should expect to see us playing with pace and space, taking advantage of transition opportunities.The vast majority of the summer work we have done has been centered around culture, accountability and shared vision. We want to play an aggressive, unselfish brand of basketball this season. Our strengths come from our versatility, athleticism and leadership of our players."
Coach: Michelle Dawson
Last year: 16-11, 7-5 in the Metro Suburban Conference
Top returning athletes: Seniors Maddie Spagnola (G, 5-3), Katie Castoro (F, 5-7), Brittany Mauritzen (G, 5-6), Taylor Schueler (F, 5-8); Juniors Yssa Sto. Domingo (G, 5-4), Izzy Hernandez (F, 5-10), Madison Knott (G, 5-8), Mallory Rejman (F, 5-9), Mariel Franco (G, 5-8)
Top newcomers: Juniors Mackenzie Wilson (F, 5-9), Taylor Gredzieleski (G, 5-4), Abby Armstrong (G, 5-4), Mary Catherine Kelly (F, 5-8); Sophomore Hailey Neihaus (G, 5-10)
Outlook: The Lady Wave return some firepower this winter led by Spagnola, who averaged 17.1 points a game. Castoro also was in double figures at 11.4 while Sto. Domingo scored 7.4 a game. "Our team is excited to begin this season," Dawson said. "We start out with a new challenge at the Hinsdale South tournament against much bigger schools and great competition. It will provide us the opportunity to see our team's strengths and weaknesses." Dawson expects one of the strengths to be putting points on the board and pushing the pace. "We hope to bring a lot of excitement to the game of basketball through our play," Dawson said. "We are quick and love to run. The first two weeks of practice have been very competitive. The girls are working extremely hard. We hope to be able to bring our game to a whole new level this year with the experience we have." After finishing third in conference last year behind Glenbard South and Riverside Brookfield, St. Edward is moving to the smaller division of the Metro Suburban. "We expect to be a top finisher in conference because of our depth and experience," Dawson said.
Coach: Dan Mandernack
Last year: 20-9, 6-4 in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division
Top returning athletes: Seniors Mackie Kelleher (C, 6-0), Teagan Pompa (G, 5-8), Kennedy Wells (G, 5-6), Emmy McIntosh (G, 5-5)
Top newcomers: Senior Gracie Franks (F, 5-9); Sophomores Casey Brennen (G, 5-7), Miah Galvan (F, 5-8); Freshman Megan McClure (5-9, G)
Outlook: Mandernack has a combination any coach would like: senior experience mixed with talented youngsters. "We have a senior-led team with talented lower level kids who will play on varsity," said Mandernack, listing strengths: "Defense led by Kennedy Wells' heart and superior athleticism, (we) care for each other, smart, athletic, great post player with Mackie, with excellent 3 point shooters on the wings." Kelleher averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds and is on pace to become the second player in school history to score 1,000 career points. Pompa only played 22 games last year before an ACL injury but averaged 8 points and drained 35 three-pointers on 46-percent shooting. Wells leads the defense after pocketing 47 steals and scoring 5 points a game. McIntosh is another player returning from an injury (ankle stress fracture) who averaged 6 points a game and made 29 three-pointers. "We need to stay healthy with end-of-the-season injuries hurting us while we were peaking at the end," Mandernack said. "Injuries hurt our playoff run." Mandernack praised Franks' speed and agility training in the off-season. He is impressed with the talent that sophomores Brennen and Galvan bring, while McClure possesses the same deadly 3-point shooting as her sister Bailey, who went downstate in the 3-point contest. "Veteran, smart and aggressive team, with some talented freshmen and sophs on the varsity roster," Mandernack said. "The seniors have had me for four years now and know the expectations and the system right down to running to get water. This group really enjoys being around each other on and off the court. No matter how hard they compete in practice they are a tight group who cheers for the person next to them which shows great chemistry and character of our players. Our defense will be much improved this year." Mandernack is excited to be invited to the Fremd Shootout this year. Mandernack called Glenbard East his Upstate Eight Valley favorites while mentioning Bartlett, West Aurora, East Aurora and West Chicago as dangerous. "Conference play is always tough, coaches do a great job scouting and preparing. It is anyone's race this year," Mandernack said.
Coach: George Rosner
Last year: 6-19, 3-9 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division
Top returning athletes: Senior Jenejha Williams (C, 6-2); Juniors Maddie Exline (F, 5-9), Andrea Bracy (F, 5-9), Becky Roncone (G/F, 5-7), Monica Brown (G, 5-5)
Top newcomer: Freshman Mandy Mien (G, 5-3)
Outlook: The Sabres bring back all five starters and add a freshman to the mix who Rosner said is one of the best in his 31 years. That's a recipe for success, especially when one of those returnees is Williams, an All-Area pick and third team all-state last year who averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds and blocked 110 shots. "She's an outstanding shot blocker, rebounder and she's got a good post-up game," Rosner said. "Over the last year she has really developed a nice outside shooting touch from 3-point range. She demands a lot of attention. She's a great girl, a great student-athlete." Exline is a two-year starter. Rosner called Roncone his most versatile player. Mien brings top-notch ballhandling skills as a freshman who will make an immediate impact and help the Sabres play at a faster pace. "She can do it all," Rosner said. "She's one of the best incoming guards I've had into the program." Angela Mitchell is another senior who will come off the bench, the last of the four Mitchell seniors Rosner has coached. "I've known her since she was born," joked Rosner. Jovelle Gadiana is another senior who will help add depth. The Sabres started last year 0-12 after losing their starting point guard three days before the season started, then got better in the second half to finish 6-7. "It was a rough start," Rosner said. "After that we started playing people better. We learned and grew as a team. We all play defense. We are going to play an up-tempo game as much as we can. We are coming in with a little different attitude. Our conference is very competitive but we're excited."
Coach: Connie Siljendahl
Last year: 11-12
Top returning athletes: Senior Kayla Battle (F/C, 5-11); Junior Skylar Doby (PG, 5-5)
Top newcomers: Seniors Teryn Griffin (F, 5-9), Selene Martinez (F, 5-8); Juniors Toni Kennebrew (F, 5-8), Kate Martinez (G, 5-3), Essence Rayford (G, 5-2); Sophomore Dajour Miles (G, 5-6), Keve Tomas (F, 5-8)
Outlook: West Aurora has had its share of obstacles before the season has even started, losing Jayma McClondon and Ki Rodgers to ACL tears. While the Blackhawks hope to have Rodgers back in December, they also have to replace 3-point specialist Carley Frauenhoff and Ashley Williams, both graduated. The good news is they have two returning three-year starters. Battle shot 48 percent from the field last year, pulled down 187 rebounds and averaged about five points a game. Doby scored slightly more while hitting 64 percent of her free throws. Coach Connie Siljendahl said the Blackhawks will be "physically strong, very fast and quick." She liked the experience her team gained playing at the Marquette University team camp, the Geneva summer league and the Montini fall league. "We should play strong defense, rebound and push the ball," Siljendahl said. "My young players who are now juniors and seniors are stronger and feeling comfortable and confident with themselves and their teammates."
Coach: Fred Versluys
Last year: 13-17, 7-3 in the Northeastern Athletic
Top returning athletes: Senior Emily Lamp (F, 5-8); Junior Elise VanNoord (F, 5-10), Sophomores Keely Frens, Lily Harbaugh (F, 5-5)
Top newcomers: Junior Mica Glanzer (PF, 5-6); Freshman Sophie Kovachevich (PG, 5-4)
Outlook: Coach Fred Versluys likes the players returning this season poised to help Westminster improve on its 2015-16 record. "Our strength will be the majority of the varsity team is returning with varsity experience," Versluys said. "We faired well in conference last year with a high number of returners this year." Frens (injured) averaged 3 points a game as a freshman while Harbaugh pulled down 2.5 rebounds. VanNoord is the top returning scorer who averaged 8.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, and Lamp provides senior leadership with her averages of 3.9 points and 3.7 rebounds a game.