Good news, girls basketball fans -- the level of play is improving

 
 
Published2/15/2008 7:44 AM

Now that we're in the middle of the girls basketball state tournaments (at last check we're up to four of those), it's time to give a state of the sport address for DuPage County.

My fellow high school sports fans, I'm happy to report girls basketball around here is on the upswing based on what I've observed in the 2007-08 season.

 

A year ago in this space I wondered what happened to girls basketball in DuPage County as last season was the worst since I started working for the paper in 1989. It was like the sport dropped off a cliff.

Only one team, Hinsdale Central, was found in the Associated Press state polls, and it wasn't highly ranked at that. Our best teams did not fare well against good teams from outside the area. Double-digit losses were common.

A lot of games resembled JV contests with a high number of turnovers, low shooting percentages and awkward play.

While girls basketball in DuPage County still has a way to go before it begins to approach its peak, which can be viewed as the three-year period when Hinsdale Central won a state title in 2002 followed by Naperville Central's back-to-back championships of 2003 and 2004, this year is a definite improvement over last year's rock-bottom descent.

I base that on three things: Better teams, a rise in marquee players and a talented freshman class.

A look at the AP state rankings finds four DuPage County teams rating an appearance. Hinsdale Central is now the No. 1 team in Class 4A with Waubonsie Valley at No. 15 in the "others receiving votes" listing. Montini is No. 5 in Class 3A. Driscoll is tied for 19th in Class 2A as it's enjoying its best season in school history.

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The state of girls basketball in the area would have improved this season based alone on the rise of three players -- Lake Park junior forward Samantha Arnold, Montini sophomore center Michala Johnson and Hinsdale Central sophomore point guard Toni Kokenis. All have become among the best players in the state as well as to ever play in the area.

Arnold has pumped up her scoring average to 23.9 points a game; the smoothly efficient Johnson is shooting 66 percent from the field; and Kokenis has led her team to the top of the rankings with a mature, assertive all-around game.

The good news is all three will be back for another season or two. Their return virtually guarantees the state of the game will continue to rise.

Then there are the talented freshmen. While none have made a super splash reminiscent of some of the best who have passed through our area, a good crop has announced its presence. More than 20 young rookies have contributed to their varsity teams, and they've exhibited plenty of potential to improve, too. Apparently not all of the best athletes are specializing in volleyball, soccer and softball yet.

The top players so far in the promising girls basketball Class of 2011 include Addison Trail's Jasmine Little, Downers Grove North's Niki Sebo, Driscoll's Allie Divito, Montini's Whitney Holloway, Naperville Central's Emma Ondik, Neuqua Valley's Danielle Davis, Wheaton Warrenville South's Hannah Credille and Annie Shain and York's Meryl Cripe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That isn't to say all is rosy in girls basketball. Turnovers still plague too many games, but I've noticed that at least when a team commits a rash of them in the first half, it often cuts down on them in the second half.

Where girls around here can improve the most is shooting, which for some reason has become especially wobbly of late. (Tired legs perhaps?) I've seen a team shoot for a percent in the 20s in six of the last eight games that I've covered as I write this column.

Overall, though, girls basketball has improved in DuPage County. Hopefully, the uptick turns into a trend in coming seasons.

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