Scouting the North Suburban
Coach: Chris Bennett (13th season)
Last season: 12-17, 7-7 in NSC, lost to Hersey in Class 4A Wauconda regional final
Key losses: G Morgan Long (club soccer)
Returning players: Sr. F McKenna Zobel (6-1), Sr. G Grace Kinsey (5-10), Jr. F Maddy Piggott (5-10), Jr. G Anna Biergans (5-7), So. G Ella Gilbertson (6-0), Sr. G Eleni Papastratakos (5-2), Sr. F Claire Jones (6-0), Jr. G Brigid Ferguson (5-7), Sr. G Jacklyn Schlender (5-6)
Newcomers: So. G Margueret Spear (5-7), Jr. F Haley Gajewski (5-7), So. F Danielle Hayes (6-0), Sr. G Janie Huels (5-9), Sr. G Christa Ventrone (5-4)
Outlook: Winning just 12 games wasn't good, but that's what happens when you play good teams. The Bears played one of the toughest schedules in the state last season. "And we have every single team back on the schedule this year, although some of them aren't as good as they were last year," coach Chris Bennett said. Like last season, the defensive-minded Bears should be competitive most nights. They return four starters in 5-foot-10 senior point guard Grace Kinsey, 6-1 senior forward McKenna Zobel, 5-10 junior forward Maddy Piggott and 6-foot sophomore Ella Gilbertson. Kinsey and Zobel are four-year varsity players and are coming strong junior campaigns. Zobel was named all-conference, while Kinsey was an honorable mention selection. Junior guard Anna Biergans, who was the Bears' first player off the bench last season, is playing her third season on varsity and will move into the starting lineup. "Basically, we got five pretty experienced kids back, and then we're going to have a good competition for who's going to come in off the bench," Bennett said. Included in the mix for minutes off the bench are sophomore newcomers Margueret Spear and Danielle Hayes, who stands 6 feet. Senior Claire Jones is another 6-footer. "We have a pretty competitive group of kids," Bennett said. "So I think they're able to fight through that (tough competition) pretty darn well, and hopefully we'll see some of the benefits of that this year." The Bears are annually one of the best defensive teams in the county. Last season, they struggled at the offensive end. "That's all we worked on this summer," Bennett said. "I definitely think we're better offensively right now."
Coach: Greg Pedersen (sixth season)
Last season: 18-12, 8-6 in NSC, won Class 4A Stevenson regional, lost to Fremd in Libertyville sectional semifinals
Key losses: F Claire Keefe (DePauw University), G Riley Weis, F Caroline Frea, G Maggie O'Sullivan
Returning players: Sr. PG Morgan Manski (5-6), Jr. F Maddie Spaulding (5-11), So. G Lydia Crow (5-8), Jr. F Maggie Evers (5-10), Jr. G Lisa Lamb (5-6)
Newcomers: So. G Gianna Whitney (5-5), So. G Brooke Bair (5-9), So. G Margaret Buchert (5-6), So. F Cheyenne Lamb (5-10), So. G Emma Manolovic (5-9), So. F Abigail Frea (5-10), So. F Abby Parkerson (6-0), Fr. G Lauren Huber (5-8), Jr. F Tori Lex (5-10)
Outlook: Lots of sophomores. Lots of potential. Wildcats coach Greg Pedersen thought that of his team three years ago. Claire Keefe, Riley Weis, Caroline Frea and Maggie O'Sullivan were among six sophomores promoted to varsity by Pedersen at the start of the 2014-15 season. Last February, they helped the Wildcats win their first regional championship in six years. "That (decision to bring up six sophomores for the 2014-15 season) paid off by the time we were all said and done," Pedersen said. Now it's time to see if it can happen again. Pedersen has eight sophomores and a freshman up. "It's easier said than done for Morgan (Manski), who wants to have a good senior year," Pedersen said of Manski, his only senior, who started at point guard last season. "We see a bright future ahead, that's for sure." Sweet-shooting guard Lydia Crow either started or played lots of minutes coming off the bench last season as a freshman. "We know she has a dangerous outside shot," Pedersen said. "She spent her off-season working on attack moves to the basket and getting into the paint. We challenged her to become a more multidimensional player. So far we're seeing proof of that in practice. We're excited to see what she can do." The other sophomores -- Gianna Whitney, Brooke Bair, Margaret Buchert, Cheyenne Lamb, Emma Manolovic, Abigail Frea and Abby Parkerson -- are all new to varsity. Pedersen says Manolovic is a "force" and is "good defensively," and he calls Buchert "the engine that makes us go," At the start of the season, however, the coach will look to Manski, Crow and 5-11 junior Maddie Spaulding, who also played a lot last season, for varsity leadership. Guard Lauren Huber is the lone freshman up. "They're energetic but inexperienced," Pedersen said of his young group. "Right now, we're just hoping to build. It's not about how we're playing right now. We're going to take some lumps. I'm pretty sure we're going to have some learning situations."
Coach: Greg Dorgan (first season)
Last season: 12-18, 4-10 in NSC, lost to Barrington in Class 4A Barrington regional play-in
Key losses: G Sarah Ouimet, G Rachel Tipperreiter, G Kendall Wald
Returning players: Sr. G Hannah Buscher (5-5), Sr. G Kelsy Austwick (5-4), Sr. F Ellie Maldonado (5-7), Sr. F Amanda Garcia (5-7), So. F Morgan Frank (5-11)
Newcomers: So. G Damia Ali (5-3), So. F Courtney Brunkow (5-10), So. F Kendall Klatt (5-7), Fr. F Gerda Boreika (5-10), Sr. F Tori Zanoni (5-5), Sr. F Sydney Blackmer (5-6), Jr. G Eve Slomka (5-6), Jr. F Madison Parola (5-5)
Outlook: Greg Dorgan's basketball players might be more used to change than him, so maybe they all can help each other in what is a transition phase for the Mustangs. The first-year coach arrives from Wauconda, where he spent the last 10 years. Last winter, he served as interim head varsity girls basketball coach while Jaime Dennis tended to her newborn son. Dorgan not only has a new team and school, but the math teacher is also back in the classroom after serving as the math department chair at Wauconda. "I love it," Dorgan said. "Change is always tough, no matter what, but the support here has been unreal." The support, he adds, includes that of his players. The seniors, including returning varsity players Hannah Buscher, Kelsy Austwick, Ellie Maldonado and Amanda Garcia, are on their third coach in four years. After Brian Evans stepped down, Martin Pazanin coached the Mustangs the last two years. The team jumped from 5 wins in Pazanin's first season to 12 last season, and Dorgan wants to continue that upward trend. Austwick boasts the most varsity experience, as she was on the roster as a sophomore. Morgan Frank started as a freshman last season and was named honorable mention all-conference, while senior Hannah Buscher also played a lot. Besides the 5-foot-11 Frank, sophomores Damia Ali, Courtney Brunkow and Kendall Klatt are all up, as is 5-10 freshman Gerda Boreika. Dorgan's season-opening lineup in a 44-43 loss to Highland Park on Monday featured Buscher (14 points), Austwick (10 points), Maldonado (6 rebounds), Frank (11 points, 18 rebounds) and Klatt (8 points, 16 rebounds). Boreika was ill and did not play. "I've been excited from Day 1," Dorgan said. "The seniors have been nothing but exemplary leaders. They communicate with me and are onboard. I know they're going to run through walls for us."
Coach: Ashley Graham (third season)
Last season: 23-6, 13-1 in NSC, lost to Libertyville in Class 4A Stevenson regional final
Key losses: PG Ashley Richardson, F Madison Wicklund
Returning players: Sr. G/F Klaire Steffens (6-0), Sr. G Kiana Cencula (5-9), Sr. F Isabella Paldrmic (5-11), Sr. G Julia Osuch (5-7), Sr. G Gina Shanley (5-10), So. F Avery King (5-11), Jr. G Krissy Hill (5-8)
Newcomers: Jr. G Georgia Maskalunas (5-5), Jr. F Devin Smith (6-0), Jr. G Andreea Turcu (5-8), Fr. G Nikki Ware (5-5)
Outlook: There's no point trying to replace the point guard who led them the last four seasons. So Kiana Cencula should not feel pressure to replicate the production of Ashley Richardson, who scored 1,490 points in her four-year varsity career (fourth most in Stevenson history) and graduated after helping steer the Patriots to 95 wins. Cencula, a senior who's been playing varsity since she was a freshman, will move from two guard to point guard. "Since she was a little girl, that was Kiana's natural position," coach Ashley Graham said. "Then when she got to high school, Ashley had already been in that position and obviously was very good at it, so we bumped Kiana to the two." Cencula has big shoes to fill, but she will not be asked to do it alone. "With someone as talented as Ashley, no one person is going to replace that (production)," Graham said. "Collectively, as a group, we'll do our best to replace it." Besides Cencula, who was named honorable mention all-conference last season, the Patriots return two other starters off last season's squad that won 23 games and the NSC championship. Klaire Steffens averaged 10.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in a repeat all-area and all-conference campaign. Forward Isabella Paldrmic provided a defensive presence in a complementary role. Seniors Steffens and Paldrmic also have played on varsity since they were freshmen. The starting lineup also features senior guard Julia Osuch, who played off the bench the last two seasons, and sophomore Avery King, who was up last season. Cencula, Steffens and Osuch are team captains. Junior guard Krissy Hill and freshman guard Nikki Ware will see playing-time coming off the bench. Besides Richardson (14.45 ppg), the Patriots also graduated all-area forward Madison Wicklund (9.9 ppg). Graham is confident the Patriots can find the offense they lost in Richardson and Wicklund. And the Patriots should win plenty again this season. They are 48-12 in two seasons under Graham, who previously coached at Prospect. "I've been really pleased with our chemistry, our camaraderie and the intensity of our practices," Graham said before her team's season opener against St. Viator at Schaumburg on Tuesday night. "A lot of times these past two weeks, we've been going twice. We're ready for tonight. There have been years when I was like, 'We need another week of practice.' We couldn't have worked any harder and we couldn't be more prepared." The Patriots didn't disappoint, beating St. Viator 47-28 behind Steffens' career-high 20 points and 16 rebounds.
Coach: John Stanczykiewicz (19th season)
Last season: 25-5, 11-3 in NSC, lost to Lake Forest in Class 4A Warren regional final
Key losses: F Rebekah Foley, G Nefeli Papadakis, G Asha Lake
Returning players: Sr. G Kaylen Dickson (5-11), Sr. G Jordyn Hughes (5-7), Jr. F Dana Lundtveit (6-1), Sr. G Camille Cuevas (5-5), Jr. G Alex Beien (5-6), Jr. F Breleigh Gula (5-11), Jr. G Jataia Harris (5-7), Sr. F Abbie Mellican (5-9)
Newcomers: So. G Macy Kocen (5-11), Jr. G Aniya Anderson (5-3), Jr. F Kahla Boyce (5-6), Jr. F Brianna Collier (5-7), Jr. G Damaria Finley (5-6), Sr. G Andrea Ignacio (5-4), Jr. F Hannah Rawhoof (5-8)
Outlook: Blue Devils coach John Stanczykiewicz has had multiple Division-I players on his team at the same before, but never have both of those players been wings. He has that this season in Kaylen Dickson (Wake Forest) and Jordyn Hughes (Eastern Illinois), both of whom signed their letters of intent last week. "We'd like to think that any game we're in, we should have two of the best players on the floor," Stanczykiewicz said. "The challenge for (Dickson and Hughes) is they're both alphas, so they have to continue to learn to play with each other. They need to learn to play with their teammates and, likewise, their teammates need to learn to play with them. That's ongoing. I think it's always ongoing." It worked out well last season. Varsity players since their freshman year, Dickson (two-time all-area, two-time all-conference) and Hughes (three-time all-area, three-time all-conference) led Warren to 25 wins, but both conference and regional titles eluded the Blue Devils. Gone are steady Rebekah Foley, who was a four-year varsity player, and hard-nosed defender Nefeli Papadakis. Dana Lundtveit, a 6-foot-1 junior, is another returning starter. Senior Camille Cuevas, who went downstate in the three-point contest last season along with Hughes, and sophomore newcomer Macy Kocen will step into the starting lineup. Cuevas will play the point. To take more advantage of the athleticism and skills of Dickson and Hughes, Stanczykiewicz has tweaked his offense and will play five out, as opposed to a traditional inside-out game. That's not to say the Blue Devils don't have length or the ability to score in the post. While Lundtveit, a good volleyball player as well, is the team's only 6-footer, Dickson, Kocen and Breleigh Gula, who played a lot off the bench last season, are all listed at 5-11. If his Blue Devils are going to reach their potential, Stanczykiewicz knows players other than his two Division-I recruits need to produce. "I thought we had a very balanced team last year," Stanczykiewicz said. "This year we're going to have to find that balance. I thought we were a deep team last year. I think our success will ultimately be determined by how quickly the new players acclimate to varsity and become players that can contribute."