Scouting Fox Valley girls basketball
Aurora Central Catholic Chargers
Coach: LeVada Smith (1st year)
Last year: 17-13, 7-4 in the Metro Suburban Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Lara Anger (6-0, C), Tressa Cwinski (5-8, F); Junior Delani Kosner (5-7, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Lili Velasquez (5-4, G), Janessa Ramirez (5-7, G), Catherine Klein (5-9, F)
Outlook: Smith has been with the Aurora Central program for eight years. This is his first as head coach after Mark Fitzgerald left for Glenbard East. The Chargers lost in last year year's regional semifinals to Glenbard South who went on to finish fourth in state. Tatyanna Smith, Jessica Kling, Maddy Bunger, Elsie Meier, Alexis Camp and Alize Casas graduated from that team but the Chargers do have experience back led by Kosner. She made the All-Area team as a sophomore leading the Chargers in scoring at 12.3 points per game and also free-throw percentage (71.4), assists (2.4) and steals (2.9). Smith said the team's goals are to win conference, improve on last year's record and win a regional. "I believe any given year multiple teams in our conference can rise to the top on either side of the division," Smith said. "I believe a lot of teams will be very competitive in our conference, especially on our side of the division. Just based on previous seasons I would say Riverside-Brookfield usually is near the forefront in conference and I would expect nothing less. Bishop McNamara has a good program so would not be surprised with any success they should have. And of course I believe Aurora Central Catholic will have success in conference this year," Smith said. One of the keys to the Chargers reaching their goals is how fast their newcomers can adjust to varsity basketball. "One of our strengths is having three potential starters in their third year of varsity basketball and also being deep with athletic perimeter players," Smith said. "A weakness would be lack of overall varsity experience. For roughly 10 players this will be their first full time experience playing varsity."
Aurora Christian Eagles
Coach: Burney Wilkie (5th year, 73-39)
Last year: 19-8, 8-1 in the NAC
Top returning players: Seniors Tori Henning (5-8, G), Dannielle Lopez (6-0, C), Lauren Richert (5-6, G)
Top newcomers: Sophomore Mia Richert (6-0, PF/C); Freshmen Thaya Luse (5-8, F), Lexi Lamanna (5-5, G), Kendall Carter (5-6, G)
Outlook: The Eagles are making the move to the Metro Suburban Conference after losing to only Harvest Christian in conference last year and falling 43-40 to Newark in a Class 1A regional championship. Henning, who already has passed 1,000 points and has a chance to become the school's all-time leading scorer, tops the returnees. She finished second team IBCA all-state. The three returning starters are the only seniors for Wilkie, and he has no juniors. "We are relatively young, but this young talent has a ton of ability," Wilkie said. Mia Richert will help anchor the Eagles inside. Wilkie likes what the freshmen bring. "They are all super talented girls that are part of what might be our best freshman class ever," Wilkie said. "Our three seniors are giving us the best leadership we have ever had. I am expecting really big years from those three. If this group gels together, we have the potential to have one of our best teams in school history." Wilkie said a key will be to avoid foul trouble and stay healthy. He likes what he's seen on the defensive end of the court. "This should be my best defensive team since becoming head coach at ACS," Wilkie said. "We have the ability to get up and down and really push the fast pace that we like." The move to the Metro Suburban will be a challenge that Aurora Christian is looking forward to. "I'm not that familiar with too many teams in our division," Wilkie said. "Timothy Christian had a great year last year, Fenton running the Grinnell system will be tough to play against and Wheaton Academy is always solid. I'm really excited to be in this new competitive conference and hopefully we will stack up somewhere near the top."
Coach: Brad Hunt (2nd year, 19-11)
Last year: 19-11, 10-0 in the Upstate Eight Valley Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Teagan Noesen (5-9, G/F), Savannah Standefer (5-10, G/F); Junior: Shelly Banks (5-8, G); Sophomores Lexie Sinclair (5-7, G), Justina Hernandez (5-10, G/F)
Top newcomers: Sophomore Dani Hedeen (5-6, G); Freshman Mackenzie Hare (5-8, G)
Season outlook: Fresh off an Upstate Eight Conference, Hunt has big shoes to fill in his second year as coach. Kayla Hare, a dynamic scorer and a pest on defense with her steals, is now at the University of St. Louis-Missouri. Dani Kleeman also graduated, but there is talent back including Sinclair, who averaged 12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals as a freshman. Hernandez also started as a freshman and averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds. Noesen scored 6 points a game last year and Standefer and Banks both averaged 3. "We look to be very competitive this year," Hunt said. "Our goal is to make it as deep as possible in the postseason. We hope to be a contender for a conference title." Hunt said he expects the team's strength to be shooting and speed, and their weakness could be size and rebounding. "The obstacles that really stands in our way is the ability to stop teams that go through the post to score, and get rebounds," Hunt said. "We play a tough schedule and in order to beat these teams we are going to have to play with poise and understand our role within the team concept." Hunt points to Glenbard South, South Elgin, West Aurora and Streamwood as teams to watch in the Upstate Eight.
Coach: Kevin Jensen (8th year, 122-91)
Last year: 18-12, 10-2 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Ava Sergio (6-1, F), Geddy Rerko (6-0, F), Hailey Orman (5-6, G), Allison Newberry (5-9, G); Juniors Erin Golden (5-9, G), Katherine Polick (5-7, G); Sophomore Morgan Haug (5-7, G)
Top newcomers: Freshman Claire Nazos (5-5, G)
Outlook: The Bulldogs will be one of the most experienced teams in the area returning their top six and nine of the top 10. That squad finished second in the Upstate Eight River and beat Bartlett in its regional opener before losing to eventual state champion Geneva. Golden and Sergio both made all-conference, and Rerko and Orman were honorable mention. "We hope to build on a season in which we won 18 games," Jensen said. "Our new league will be full of great teams this year. Each team in the conference will be very competitive. As much as we hope to build on the wins from last season, we understand that this conference will be extremely competitive every single night." The Bulldogs also are playing Rolling Meadows, Naperville North, Rock Island and Burlington Central among others, not to mention the Montini Christmas tournament. "We have one of the toughest schedules in the area, and we hope this prepares us for strong performances in the postseason," Jensen said. Sergio has committed to Winona State and Rerko to Colgate and give Batavia a strong inside game. Jensen said Polick and Haug will see more significant roles this season, and the freshman Nazos will "have an immediate impact off the bench." He called Golden the team's best all-around player last year after she led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. "We have strong senior leadership on our team," Jensen said. It won't be easy in the DuKane Conference but Jensen is looking forward to seeing how it plays out. "Geneva, Wheaton Warrenville South and Wheaton North had the strongest postseason finishes last year," Jensen said. "Lake Park returns one of, if not the, best player in the conference. St. Charles North is a very talented team on the rise. We hope to compete as one of the top teams in the conference."
Burlington Central Rockets
Coach: Mark Smith (7th year, 162-55).
Last year: 27-4, 11-1 in the Kishwaukee River Conference
Top returning players: Senior Mackenzie West (5-11, F); Juniors Kathryn Schmidt (6-0, F), Reili Gardner (5-8, G), Lily Moretti (5-7, G), Alexandra Lichner (6-0, F), Zoey Kollhoff (5-9, F), Maddie Menke (5-6, G); Sophomores Elana Wells (5-6, G), Avery Andersen (5-8, G), Emily Ahlers (5-7, G)
Top newcomers: Senior Gracie Ozburn (5-8, G); Junior Sarah Blakley (5-9, F)
Outlook: Coaches would envy the situation Smith is in at Burlington Central, which returns 10 players from a team that won 27 of 31 games a year ago. "They've got a lot of experience under their belts," Smith said of a group headed by leading scorer Schmidt (16 ppg, 7 rpg) and point guard Wells (12.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 steals, 2.4 assists). "Kat is quite a talent. She's a great shooter and is very serious about the game." Schmidt reached the 1,000-point plateau in the Rockets' first game of the season Monday night against Larkin -- and she still has another season remaining in 2019-2020. Wells has already proven to be another go-to player. "She wants the ball in her hands in the fourth quarter," said Smith. "She's a press breaker who can also get to the rim. She has the ability to use her body to shield the ball when going inside." Ozburn is a transfer from Harvest Christian, where she has spent the last two seasons. The Rockets will play a beefed-up schedule that includes nonconference games against Batavia, Dundee-Crown and Sycamore. Two-time defending Class 4A state champion Geneva is an addition to Burlington's season-opening tournament.
Coach: Rod Saffert (13th year, 236-118)
Last year: 19-11, 11-5 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Maddie Jannusch (G/F), Bailey Steinkamp (G/F), Sarah Howdeshell (F), Elsa Larry (G)
Top newcomers: Seniors Kailyn Sheehan (G/F), Taylor Tomasiewicz (G/F); Sophomore Lauren Passaglia (G/F); Freshman Emily Lukowski (G/F)
Season outlook: The Trojans have some big shoes to fill in Katie Sowa, who helped the team finish second in the Fox Valley Conference and win a regional title. Saffert, who is joined by Scott Morris back for his fifth year as assistant coach, is counting on Jannusch and Steinkamp to play key roles. "These two young ladies will provide the senior leadership necessary to have another successful season," Saffert said. "Jannusch is a returning all-conference player, and Steinkamp is one of our captains and will be a powerful force for us as well." Howdeshell is another captain. "She will provide great leadership along with Steinkamp, and Larry has been an integral part of our success for a couple of years now." Sowa likes what the newcomers provide. "These four young ladies will be incredible additions to the ineup," Saffert said. "They bring height, speed, strength, and an ability to play on the perimeter as well as in the post, which will all play into the success of this team." Saffert likes his team's chances to compete for FVC and regional crowns. "We will be extremely deep this year," Saffert said. "With a potential varsity roster of 15 players which includes 11 seniors, depth will certainly be one of this team's strengths. If we can become a cohesive unit, we could be a dangerous team in the FVC and in the playoffs. This conference campaign will be a competitive one. There are several teams that could win it. Every night should present great battles to watch throughout the FVC."
Crystal Lake South Gators
Coach: Mark Mucha (5th year, 66-45)
Last year: 7-21, 2-14 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Maddie Bush (G), Cristina Lehman (G), Kate Lawson (G); Juniors Kyra Swartz (G), Gaby Trier (F); Sophomores Brooke Kuffel (F), Ava Sevcik (F)
Top newcomers: Juniors Julia Martin (F), Allie Schoen (F); Sophomore Emily Rich (G)
Outlook: Mucha has three returning starters from a year ago in Bush, Kuffel and Sevick. The later two started as freshmen a year ago. The Gators, like last year, will be young on paper. "We are a young team for the second year in a row, but we're still looking to build off our varsity experience from last year," said Mucha. Mucha said the FVC will have plenty of top-level teams, including the likes of McHenry, Cary-Grove, Dundee-Crown and Huntley.
Coach: Sarah Miller (6th year, 80-77)
Last year: 19-10, 11-5 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Kendall Kieltyka (5-9, F/C), Josie Munoz (5-4, G); Juniors Cassidy Randl (5-10, F), Payton Schmidt (5-6, G), Katelyn Skibinski (5-8, G); Sophomores Gianine Boado (5-8, PG/G), Alyssa Crenshaw (5-10, F/C)
Top newcomers: Juniors Shiniah Walker (5-4, G), Mikayla Gotter (5-9, F/C), Alaina Azar (5-7, G)
Outlook: The Chargers feature a dynamic sophomore duo in Boado, all-conference as a freshman, and Crenshaw who made honorable mention. "Her (Boado) ability to handle the ball, create offense, score from the 3 or drive, and defend will help our team compete," Miller said. "Alyssa, her ability to rebound, score from the post or drive, shoot and defend will be very important to our team." Schmidt is coming off playing an entire season with torn ligaments in her foot. She had surgery right after the season. "Her ability to lead, score from the 3 or drive, defend, and create offense will be very big," Miller said. Miller likes Randl's ability to hit a 3 and defend. Kieltkya provides senior leadership, intense competition, and smart decision making, according to Miller. Skibinski brings "intense defensive pressure, the ability to handle the ball, create offense, lead, and score," said Miller. Among the newcomers, look for Walker to bring defensive intensity, Gotter to provide post play and Azar to help with shooting. "We have a lot of leadership and our players really desire to compete," Miller said. "This is a special group and our strengths should be our defense, rebounding, and ability to score from numerous players." Miller looks for the Chargers to compete with Cary-Grove, McHenry, Prairie Ridge and Huntley for the FVC title.
Coach: Dr. Nick Bumbales (10th year)
Last year: 4-24, 0-12 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Dajha Cooper (6-0, C), Emily Graves (5-8, F), Kamiya Harvey (5-6, G), Sarah Moskow (6-0, C), Sabrina Chen (5-7, G), Abby Sensor (5-7, F), Rachel Caldwell (5-9, F)
Top newcomers: Seniors Diamond Murray (5-4, G), Gwyn Canlas (5-3, G); Juniors: Madison Bowers (5-5, F), Jessica Brown (5-0, G), Layla Brown (5-0, G), Tenacious Cadney (5-1, G), Brittany Catalan (5-3, F), Sandy Espinoza-Martinez (5-2, G), Araceli Estrada (5-0, G), Janette Garcia-Saltigerald (5-6, G), Jennifer Hernandez (5-3, G), Giana Kilbert (5-6, G), Jasmine Mann (5-11, F), Michelle Morales (5-0, G), Tatiana Rodriguez (5-7, F), Rayanne Schubert (5-8, F), Margie Troyke (5-4, G)
Outlook: Cooper averaged 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last year. Harvey averaged 5.8 points, and Graves, Moskow, Chen and Sensor all chipped in between 2 and 4 points a game. Murray is a transfer from Dundee-Crown. Bumbales said this past summer Elgin had its first winning record "in some time." They have a good anchor with Cooper in the middle. "This year's hopes rest on being able to improve offensively," Bumbales said. "(Cooper) provides height, scoring presence around the basket and couple possibly challenge some long-standing school rebounding and block records." Graves and Harvey also are returning starters. "Graves has the potential to make a big impact as a dual offensive/defensive threat, and Kamiya is a strong player who is a legitimate inside/outside threat." Chen will provide 3-point shooting. "How quickly inexperienced players come along playing in a structured system could be a telling part to our season," Bumbales said. Losing Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles East and North certainly brings a new look to the Upstate Eight. "The loss of the four Tri-City schools should lighten the load, but the addition of former rivals Bartlett and South Elgin should intensify the competition," said Bumbales, who pegs Glenbard South fresh off a trip to the Class 3A state tournament as the team to beat. Elgin has 30 players out for the freshman team and 75 in the program. Four former players are joining Bumbales on his staff. "Having my former players back and on the staff is very energizing."
Elgin Academy Hilltoppers
Coach: Mike Carani (1st year)
Last year: 10-12, 3-5 Independent School League
Top returning players: Seniors Renee Scimeca (G), Lauryn Yost (G), Katie Peak; Juniors Ariana Marchan (G), Maddy Noble-Stas
Outlook: Marchan, Schimeca and Yost were three key contributors from last year's team. Marchan was the second-leading scorer on the team a year ago and new coach Carani sees Marchan, Scimeca and Yost as three players who will provide leadership and defensive intensity. He's also looking to Noble-Stas and Peak "to step into key roles and be contributors on the team as we work to be more balanced at each position." Marchan, who Carani noted has the ability and potential to be an all-conference player, and Scimeca both started last year. "We have a group of hardworking girls that will not give up," said Carani. "We may not have the size or numbers, but we will compete all four quarters and more." The Hilltoppers will run a new offense this year under Carani. "We are installing a new offense that requires the girls to read the defense and attack based on what the defense is giving up," he said. "There are multiple layers to this offense and it will take some time for the girls to become proficient." Carani said the team benefits on defense from quick and aggressive guards. "We will look to put pressure on and increase the tempo of the game," he said. The new coach said the priority is to focus on improvement game by game. "We need to play as a team, work together through adversity, be accountable and be patient through the process," said Carani. "This is a journey."
Coach: Sarah Meadows (8th year, 179-43)
Last year: 31-3, 12-0 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Cassidy Navigato (5-6, G), Jenna Segebrecht (F/C, 6-1), Emma Davine (6-0, F/C); Juniors Lindsay Blackmore (6-0, G/F), Katie Montgomery (5-6, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Grace Hinchman (5-7, G), Emma Kornak (6-0, F/C); Sophomores Katherine Palmer (5-9, G), Kelly McCloughan (5-9, G/F); Freshman Zosia Wrobel (6-0, G/F)
Outlook: The Vikings enter the season as back-to-back Class 4A state champions, winning both in as dramatic of fashion as possible on last-second shots from Stephanie Hart. Last year's title win came over longtime nemesis Montini. It's going to be a lot of new faces trying to continue the dominance Geneva has enjoyed under Meadows whose team has played in at least a sectional in all seven of her seasons. Hart graduated as did four more starters Margaret Whitley, Maddy Yelle, Bri Borkowicz and Madison Mallory. Of the few returnees, Blackmore saw by far the most court time the past two years and averaged 6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals last year. She also came up big in several of the postseason wins like Wheaton North in the sectional semifinals and also hitting a couple big shots in the state title win over Montini. Montgomery and Navigato also earned minutes off the bench on last year's team. Meadows said athleticism is a strength for her team. "This is a quick team, who will like to play fast," Meadows said. "This is both a strength and weakness in that we are young. Youth brings inexperience but it also brings fearlessness. This group works really hard and they will come at teams. I love that about this group." Meadows also expects good things from her sophomore class and freshman Zosia Wrobel. She knows there's going to be some growing pains but is excited to see what this group can accomplish. "Obstacles will be making mistakes," Meadows said. "We are young and it is a new look, we graduated five starters. If we can limit our mistakes and learn from our mistakes this team will get better and better every game. It is going to be an exciting year to watch a team grow and mature all season. I believe the starting point and finishing point with this team is going to be fun to watch." Meadows also is excited to start play in the DuKane Conference. "It is going to be competitive every night," Meadows said. "We are looking forward to it."
Coach: Mike Featherly (6th year, 84-57)
Last year: 14-14, 9-7 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Sarah Bowen (5-10, F), Ally Cermak (5-3, G), Morgan Haefling (5-7, G), Jessie Heine (5-5, G), Aly Johnson (5-7, G/F); Juniors Alyssa Cork (5-7, G), Katie Del Re (5-6, G); Sophomore Kelby Bannerman (6-1, G/F)
Top newcomers: Junior Ronnie Walker (5-8, F); Sophomore Jessie Dumoulin (5-2, G)
Outlook: While Lauren Herrmann graduated, Hampshire does have the majority of its team back. That includes Bannerman, who burst onto the scene at 10.5 points per game as a freshman. Cermak averaged 7.5 a game last year. "With a lot of returning talent, we have high hopes for this season," Featherly said. "We believe we can be competitive in every game. The goal is to be playing meaningful games in late January and early February." Featherly likes his team's depth. "One of the strengths we have is we have many girls that can play," Featherly said. "The depth of our bench is going to be a strength of ours. Coming together as a team is going to be a continual area we will work on throughout the season." Featherly listed Sycamore and Burlington Central as two of the strong nonconference teams in the area while expecting a balanced race in the Fox Valley Conference. "It looks to be a wide open conference race," Featherly said. "Many teams have improved since last year."
Harvest Christian Lions
Coach: Zoe Smallwood (1st year)
Last year: 28-5, 7-0 in the NAC
Top returning players: Junior Maddy Martin; Sophomore Lauren Semerau
Top newcomers: Junior Abby Semerau; Freshmen Karisa Campos, Abby Semerau
Outlook: The Lions are coming off another big season when they won another conference championship and then moved up to Class 2A in the postseason and reached a supersectional before losing a hard-fought 53-48 game to eventual state champion Marshall. The Lions lost coach Jeff Boldog from that team and also talented guard Alyssa Iverson who averaged 18.5 points, 4.5 steals and 4.0 assists a game. Elena Porrata also made last year's All-Area team but transferred, as did Gracie Ozburn who is now at Burlington Central. That means the Lions are extremely thin with only six varsity players to start the season. "We are currently in the rebuilding stage," Smallwood said. "I have been tasked to develop a winning culture not just from the varsity level, but also from our middle school girls level as well." Martin returns to the lineup and will co-captain the team with Lauren Semarau. "The strengths that the girls have is the unified goal of taking every day step by step to become a better player and better team," Smallwood said. "Our weakness is the limited amount of players that we have, and a lot of inexperience players on the varsity team that has not played in any varsity games (three freshmen). What I will say, whoever we face, we will not back down or give up. We play until the end. We never lose, we learn."
Huntley Red Raiders
Coach: Steve Raethz (20th season, 329-232)
Last year: 8-21, 5-11 in the Fox Valley Conference
Top returning players: Senior Bridget Bigden (F/C, 5-9); Juniors Anna Seng (5-4, G), Sydney Novak (5-11, F); Sophomores Kamsi Nwogu (F/C, 5-11), Ashley Guazzo (5-3, G) Bri Bower (5-8, G/F)
Top newcomers: Seniors Missy Moffett (5-7, G), Carina Bowman (5-4, G); Juniors Ashlyn Brown (5-7, G), Ali Galante (5-9, G/F), Mickey Lucas (5-7, G/F), Taylor Koop (5-5, G/F)
Outlook: The Red Raiders suffered two tough breaks before the season even began with sophomores Raquel Radermacher and Madison Wash both out for the year with torn ACLs. Radermacher, who averaged 9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals last year, was Huntley's leading scorer and made the FVC All-Conference team. "Both Madison and Raquel would have played extensive minutes and would have contributed greatly to our team this season," Raethz said. The Red Raiders do get Moffett back. She made all-conference as a sophomore but did not play her junior season after also tearing her ACL. "We are excited to have Missy Moffett back playing for our team this season," Raethz said. "She provides us with experience and is very solid on both ends of the floor." Nwogu was second on Huntley last year at 8.1 points a game while leading the team with 5.3 rebounds a game. Bigden averaged 2.6 points and 2.6 rebounds, and Seng chipped in 3 points and 2 assists a game. "I think the opportunity is there to be a competitive team this year, but our success lies in how we defend and rebound as a team," Raethz said. "In the early part of the season we have been working to develop our cohesiveness and understand our roles within the team. I think as that comes together, I see us getting better as the season goes on, and our cohesion will improve. This team has to focus on intangibles and playing solid defense and doing the little things to put us in positions to win." Raethz pegged McHenry, Dundee-Crown and Cary-Grove as teams to watch in the Fox Valley Conference, and the Red Raiders will have to overcome bad luck with injuries to compete with those squads. "It was tough losing Madison and Raquel for the entire season," Raethz said. "Both had very productive offseasons."
Jacobs Golden Eagles
Coach: Jonathon Reibel (1st year)
Last year: 9-18
Top returning players: Seniors Aleicia Valldejuli (5-8, F), Klaesyn Sibless (5-5, F); Juniors Courtney Durben (5-5, G), Melissa Fessler (5-8, G), Courtney Pahl (5-4, G), Liz Schwartz (5-6, G), Roz Leitner (5-10, F), Kyra Cabusao (5-5, G); Sophomore Delaney Garden (5-4, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Elena Sloan (5-9, F), Sharon Dooley (5-9, F), Maya Acevedo (5-6, G), Cora Slavich (5-4, G), Sydney Calcagno (5-5, G)
Outlook: Reibel takes over the controls of the Golden Eagles program and has a good mix of returning players and newcomers to work with. "We have players with a lot of varsity experience," he said. "We can play a lot of different lineups and styles due to the makeup of the team and players being able to all pass, shoot, dribble and defend." With a new coach comes new offensive and defensive game plans. "The offense is coming along and taking some time due to a new system and philosophy being implemented, but the girls are dealing with it well and working hard to understand it," said Reibel. "Each day they become more confident and comfortable with it. They will continue to improve every day. It's the same thing on defense. It's a new system and philosophy so the girls are getting used to our coaching and expectations each day. They are progressing well, but it will take some time before we really start to play at the level we want. As long as we are ready to go during the conference portion of the season and the state tournament, that is all we care about. We want to be playing our best basketball in January and February." Reibel said success will come by his players being committed to each other and staying together through each win and loss. "We need all 14 players to perform at their highest level during practice and games," he said. "We aren't the tallest team so we will need to rebound and limit second chances for our opponents." Reibel would like to see his squad finish in the upper-half of the FVC standings, "with our sights set on one of the top few spots," he said.
Coach: Ernie Colombe (13th year, 180-154)
Last year: 25-5, 10-3 in the Northern Illinois Big XII East
Top returning players: Seniors Hannah Armin (5-5, SG), Linsey Turner (5-6, PG), Bryanna Kigyos (5-8, PF), Maddy Wheatley (5-7, SF), Jillian Mitchinson (5-7, SG), Katie Colombe (5-9 PF), Peyton Giffney (5-6, SF); Juniors Keely Noel (5-7, SF), Delaney Sheehan (5-10, PF); Sophomores Chloe Conley (5-6, PG), Kelsey Modaff (5-8, SF)
Top newcomer: Freshman McKenzie Schueler (5-5, PG)
Outlook: In the sport of basketball, there is certain givens -- no matter what level the game is played: no coach relishes having to replace his starting backcourt. But that is a central task for Colombe this winter with the graduation of point guard Jamie Martens and 2-guard Jenni Weber. "We are not trying to replace Jamie and Jenni," Colombe said. "They were outstanding players, and each had a unique skill set. We have a 14-player roster. We really believe that each player will contribute at some time this season." The Knights should be one of the better Class 3A programs in the far western suburbs with several returning players from a 25-win program from a season ago. "Armin and Noel are our returning starters," Colombe said. "We have a very unselfish team. We are just trying to develop the players we have and know best how to utilize them." The Knights began their season Tuesday at the Wauconda Thanksgiving Tournament. "We have players who are more than capable of stepping into starting roles this year," Colombe said. "Our primary goal is the same as every year: go 1-0 every day. Good things will happen."
Coach: Steve Knapp (4th year, 33-59)
Last year: 5-25, 2-10 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Amber Allen (5-3, G), Kiara Villa (5-6, G), Keondra Baldwin (5-5, G), Michelle Walkine (5-5, G); Juniors Brianna Young (5-11, G), Aaliyah Dixon (5-11, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Ashley Miller (5-8, G/F), Janelle Clements (5-9, F)
Outlook: The Royals graduated heady stalwart Haley Bohne from a team that defeated Jacobs in its regional opener before losing to Dundee-Crown.
Young and Dixon are three-year starters who can score. Young averaged 13 points a game last year and Dixon 10. "With the new conference, we're looking to compete with the top teams in the league," Knapp said. "We will be more athletic than ever before and looking to pick the pace up this season. Looking to finish in top three in the conference." Knapp is looking forward to seeing Larkin pressure its opponents and get some easy baskets. "Strengths will be athleticism," Knapp said. "Weaknesses will be post play and height. We need to be a quick tempo team this year. Glenbard South will give us some problems as they bring back some players from their third place finish last year (in the Class 3A state tournament)."
Coach: Phil VanBogaert (3rd year, 29-27)
Last year: 14-12, no conference affiliation
Top returning players: Juniors Izzy Kalantzis (5-6, SG), Jessica Muckerheide (5-8, G-F), Ella Havertape (5-3, PG), Kyla Dalton-Colley (5-6, SF), Zoey Olsen (5-10, PF), Zoe Ketterman (6-2, C), Celeste Cozzoni (6-0, C), Lauren Seger (5-9, PF); Sophomores Julia Rivera (5-3, PG), Megan Cibulskis (6-0, C), Madison Cibulskis (5-9, PG).
Outlook: It will be a year of transition for the Royals this winter. There is not a senior in the program, and Rosary will embark upon a new challenge in the Metro Suburban Conference. "We're in the Red Division," VanBogaert said. "It's good to be in a conference, to have something else to shoot for. We're going to have our hands full in the Metro Suburban." To add further intrigue to the Royals' new season, virtually the entire starting lineup from last year graduated. But VanBogaert will look to Ketterman, a spot starter last year, to anchor the team. "She's a pretty good post, but she can hit a 3-pointer," VanBogaert said. "She is going to be tough to stop." VanBogaert admits to a level of uncertainty as the season begins in earnest. Rosary opens its campaign at the IMSA Hoop Happenings tournament. "I think we will be a work in progress," VanBogaert said. "I think it will be a fun year as coach, regardless of wins and losses." VanBogaert will look to Muckerheide for additional versatility. VanBogaert believes cohesiveness on the court could be essential to the Royals' progress. "What's unique about this team is the kids are learning really well."
St. Charles East Saints
Coach: Aubree Schuett (2nd year, 13-14)
Last year: 13-14, 6-6 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Ashley DiOrio (5-7, G/F), Alexis Kiefer (5-6, G), Madeline Hirata (6-1, F), Grace Griffin (5-5, G), Emily Vitkus (6-0, F), Taylor Shead (5-8, F); Sophomore Leah Griffin (5-3, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Sarah Burke (5-7, G), Gabrielle McCaslin (5-10, F), Samantha Sash (5-10, F); Sophomores Makenna Brown (5-8, G), Vivian Di Giovanni (5-3, G), Sarah Podjasek (5-9, F); Freshmen Sofia Lori (5-5, G), Olivia Kiefer (5-7, G), Victoria Kortan (5-6, G), Gabriella Schmidt (5-8, F)
Outlook: How will the Saints deal with the graduation departure of 6-foot forward Sara Rosenfeldt, a 4-year varsity starter and the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder? Rosenfeldt, who averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds last season, is now playing at UAB. "We'll have to play as a team to be successful," said Schuett. "It's going to be a different type of year. I've been impressed with our energy (at preseason practices). I think we'll be able to manage more of an up-tempo style of play. Last year, opponents felt if they stopped Sara (Rosenfeldt) they would be good. This year, we don't have that one person." DiOrio leads the group of returnees that includes the Griffin sisters and Vitkus, two years removed from knee surgery. "Emily (Vitkus) looks more confident," said Schuett. The Saints' youthful 17-player roster includes 3 sophomores and 4 freshmen. "The freshmen probably have had to adjust the most to the speed of varsity basketball," said the coach. "We still have kids who are hungry, including the young kids." The Saints also await play in the inaugural season of the DuKane Conference, which could arguably be the state's toughest girls basketball conference. Two-time defending Class 4A state champion Geneva, up-and-coming Batavia, St. Charles North and St. Charles East are joined by Glenbard North, Lake Park, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South. "If you want to be the best, you have to play the best," said Schuett. "I think there will be more balance in our conference this year."
St. Charles North North Stars
Coach: Mike Tomczak (3rd year, 34-22)
Last year: 15-12, 7-5 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Senior Annie Tate (5-8, PF); Junior Caroline Jakaitis (6-1, F/C); Sophomore Talia Pellegrini (5-6, SG/PG)
Top newcomers: Juniors Emma Nawara (5-10, F), Catelyn Klug (6-1, F); Sophomores Tatum Settlemyer (6-1, F/C), Makenna Collins (5-5, G/PG); Freshman Emma Ludwig (5-6, PG)
Outlook: The North Stars have to replace Anna Davern, who had over 900 career points and is on a full scholarship to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Tate leads the returnees after averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds a game. "Senior captain and leader," Tomczak said. "Monster on the offensive glass that has added an outside shot to her game. As tough and hard-nosed a player as there is in the state." Tomczak also likes what Jakaitis brings to the team. "Ready to lead," Tomczak said. "Fierce rebounder and defender. Ready to take the next step offensively." Pellegrini will be counted on even more after the North Stars lost standout guard and sparkplug Launi Chanthobury to an ACL injury. "Talia is lightning quick, very aggressive," Tomczak said. "Completely healthy off an injury plagued freshman campaign. Her outside shot complements her ability to get to the paint with regularity." As for losing Chanthobury: "Playing without a player like Launi Chanthobury will be a huge adjustment because her importance to our team and our program cannot be overstated," Tomczak said. "However, we have a number of young, hungry players willing to step up." Those young players include Ludwig whose older brothers have been standouts for Tom Poulin's St. Charles North boys program. The North Stars will need Ludwig and all the newcomers to contribute early in the challenging new DuKane Conference. "The DuKane will be extremely competitive," Tomczak said. "We look forward to the challenge. Our girls put in a tremendous amount of work in the off-season. We have changed both our offensive and defensive systems to best fit the massive influx of new varsity players we will have this year. We are extraordinarily young but very hungry. We expect to play an exciting, physical, up-tempo brand of basketball this season." Tomczak is looking forward to competing in the DuKane. "Geneva is the two-time defending state champion, so of course, the conversation has to begin there," Tomczak said. "Wheaton North and Wheaton South are traditionally extremely strong programs and Batavia returns the majority of their lineup from last year. Lake Park also has a dynamic player that is a force to be reckoned with. The DuKane Conference is one of the premier girls basketball conferences in the state. Hands down." How will the North Stars stack up in it? While losing Chanthobury is a big blow, the North Stars should still be a team to watch. "Our strength will be our depth, athleticism and length this season," Tomczak said. "Our girls have proved over the summer and fall that they do not back down from any competitors. We believe we have a number of new additions to varsity that can make a big impact right away. We lack experience but have great senior leadership in Annie Tate. We also have a few returning varsity players like Talia Pellegrini and Caroline Jakaitis who are ready to take the next step on both sides of the ball."
Coach: George Rosner (34th season at Streamwood, 38th overall)
Last year: 8-20, 5-9 in the Upstate Eight River Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Alexis Rojas (5-8, post), Riya Patel (5-9, G-F), Colleen Veguilla (5-6, G), Emily Bugarewicz (5-5, G); Junior Mandy Mien (5-5, G)
Top newcomers: Juniors Vicki Kopko (5-10, F), Payton Hedger (5-6, G-F), Kaylee Angle (5-6, G-F), Idalyd Ocampo (5-5, G); Sophomore Vivian Sumoski (5-9, G-F)
Outlook: Rosner, the dean of area coaches, loves having standout point guard Mien back for her third season on the varsity. She averaged 12 points a contest last year. "She's the best true point guard I've ever coached," he said. "I've never had a point guard handle the ball like she can. She can do a lot of things. She's quite a player. She's a junior who has emerged as a team leader. She's special, to say the least." Rosner said last year's 8-20 record was a bit deceiving due to starter injuries. "We had everybody back down the stretch," he said. "Everybody on this team can play and they can play multiple positions. They all can shoot the ball. It's a nice group. Depth will be a strength as will be the ability to play multiple positions. Most of them can handle the ball. It's a group that will challenge each other for playing time. The versatility is very good. I'm very happy so far with what is going on." Rosner said 3-point shooting could be one of the team's calling cards. "We probably will take more 3s than any other team I've coached. It's a definite strength," he said. "Having Mandy break down defenses should get us some good open looks." Rosner, who also likes his group's overall speed, said the UEC will be competitive with Glenbard South and West Aurora as two of the favorites. Streamwood opens at Dundee-Crown against Jacobs, the hosts, Crystal Lake South and Huntley for a strong dose of FVC action before opening UEC play against Bartlett.
South Elgin Storm
Coach: Dan Mandernack (5th year, 76-42)
Last year: 14-14, 5-5 in the Upstate Eight Valley Conference
Top returning players: Senior Casey Brennan (5-9, G); Junior Megan McClure (5-10, G)
Top newcomers: Junior Ari Williams (5-7, G); Freshmen Caroline Croft (5-5, G), Ella Winterhalder (5-5, G)
Outlook: The Storm have a mix of veterans and youth that Mandernack will try to mold together into a team that can compete with the better ones in the Upstate Eight Conference. McClure is back after making all-conference last year when she averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds while sinking 41 shots from 3-point range. Brennan made honorable mention all-conference and gives the Storm an experienced ballhandler who averaged 9 points and 5 assists while pocketing 66 steals on defense. Williams averaged 16 points on the sophomore team. Mandernack likes what both freshmen bring. "Caroline attacks the basket, smart, aggressive, great defense," Mandernack said. "Ella is a 3-point shooter, intense, hustles nonstop, leader." The group is coming off a 21-0 record during summer league and shootouts. "Our goal is to keep improving with our individual player development program and improve as a team as we prepare for a difficult schedule," Mandernack said. "Expectations are high after a surprising summer." Mandernack pointed to depth, 3-point shooting and speed as team strengths, plus their ability to play multiple defensive systems, press and team play. "We have a lot of hustle and senior leadership," the coach said while listing rebounding as a potential concern. Mandernack tabbed Bartlett, Glenbard South and West Aurora as teams to watch in the UEC.
St. Edward Green Wave
Coach: Michelle Dawson (15th year, 235-161)
Last year: 19-8, 11-1 in the Metro Suburban Red Conference
Top returning players: Seniors Hailey Niehaus (5-11, F), Madalynn Duffy (5-4, G), Rachel Hicks (5-8, G), Gabby DeWindt (5-10, F); Juniors Maddie Ellsworth (5-6, G), Samantha Ottinger (5-7, G)
Top newcomers: Senior Katie Ellsworth (5-7, G); Sophomore Mia Castro (5-3, G); Freshman Brooke Biggins (5-6, G)
Outlook: St. Edward won its second consecutive Metro Suburban Conference Red title last year but graduated nine seniors from that team including Yssa Sto. Domingo who is playing at UW Whitewater and Mariel Franco who is playing at Elgin Community College. "Being a young, but talented team our coaches are excited to see who is going to step up to be a leader on the court," said Dawson, who is assisted by Denny Butzow. "Our goal is to improve every practice, every game. We expect other teams will have difficulties keeping up with our speed and quickness." Besides inexperience, St. Edward also has to overcome a lack of size on the roster. "Our biggest challenge will be defending the paint against taller teams," Dawson said. The Green Wave defeated Walther Christian in their final conference game last year to earn a conference crown, and Dawson expects an even tougher race this year after more changes to the Metro Suburban. "With the addition/return of Bishop McNamara, St. Francis and Rosary in the Metro Suburban Conference, our schedule became significantly more challenging," Dawson said.
Coach: Teresa Waldinger (1st year)
Last year: 19-7, 7-3 in the Upstate Eight Valley
Top returning players: Seniors: Dajour Miles (5-8, PG), Ana Karanovic (5-9, PF), Ayla Reeves (5-6, PG), Keva Tomas (5-9, SG); Juniors: Dezember Barnes (5-6, PG), Kendra Battle (5-10, PF), Abbey Kuhn (5-10, PF), Isabelle Lambert (5-6, PG), Narita Lambert (5-6, SG), Aaliayah Morris (5-1, PG), Rashida Naylor (5-7, SF), Alaysia Stewart (5-9, PF), Olivia Vanderwoude (5-11, C), Priscila Vargas (5-6, SG), Taylor Wyeth (5-6, SG); Sophomore: Jalyssa Carrasco (5-4, PG)
Outlook: Waldinger assumes control of the program after leading the Blackhawks' sophomore team to the Upstate Eight Valley league title last year. Miles' decision to return for a third year of varsity basketball was an initial boost. The two-time defending Class 3A state champion in the 400-meter run in track, Miles' superior athleticism is ever-present on the basketball court as well. "She flies down the court," Waldinger said of the Kentucky-bound track recruit. "She does it all so seamlessly." Waldinger will seek to complement the primary returnees and the five starters from the championship sophomore team. "There are six total (players) who had considerable (varsity) playing time," Waldinger said. Vanderwoude and Battle are expected to be the main contributors in the frontcourt. "Olivia has gotten stronger," Waldinger said. "I expect her to be tough offensively and pull down those defensive rebounds." Tomas' forte is long-range shooting. "Our goal is to be the hardest-working team in every game," Waldinger said. "We expect these (junior) girls bring the same energy (they did to the sophomore team last year)." West Aurora will open its season Saturday against Naperville North at the WarHawk Tournament at its co-host Waubonsie Valley.
Westminster Christian Warriors
Coach: Fred Versluys (5th year)
Last year: 9-14, 4-5 Northeastern Athletic
Top returning players: Seniors Keely Frens (5-4, G), Grace Schmitt (5-7, post); Junior Sophie Kovachevich (G)
Top newcomers: Sophomore Kelly Bickart (5-8, wing); Freshman Gretchen Hill (5-4, G)
Outlook: The Warriors do return contributors Frens (6.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.4 assists), Kovachevich (4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.6 steals) and Schmitt (2.8 points, 7.0 rebounds) from last year's team. Versluys said team strengths this year include defensive determination, effort and attitude. The coach has liked what he's seen so far in practice on both sides of the ball. "With limited practices prior to our first game, the girls have done a great job of learning a lot in a short period of time," said Versluys. "Defensively, determination will be a key for us this year." Keys to overall success, Versluys added, include awareness and movement of the team offensively without the ball.
-- Craig Brueske and Mike Miazga contributed