Bardic's return makes big impact for Stevenson
When she was finally cleared to play in a basketball game nearly a month into the season, Stevenson guard Ava Bardic had to adjust not only to varsity speed but varsity speed as a freshman.
A small freshman, at that.
Three double-digit scoring efforts in a row suggest the 5-foot-6 Bardic is hitting her stride.
Her team-high 15 points in the Patriots' 46-45 loss to host Lake Zurich on Tuesday night marked a season high. She was coming off games of 11 points (Zion-Benton) and 12 points (Libertyville). Against Lake Zurich, the fearless freshman shot 7 of 11 from the floor with a 3-pointer. Sheconsistently got in the lane and finished jumpers.
Bardic missed Stevenson's first 10 games while recovering from a broken finger, which required surgery. She has shown why Patriots coach Ashley Graham pegged her as a potential starter even before the season started.
"We know she has it in her," Graham said. "She's finally caught her wind, and she's playing so nicely out there. She's an excellent ballhandler, another scoring threat for us and a great attacker. She's got a moxie about her. She's a gamer."
Stevenson guard Simone Sawyer, who's averaging 13.7 points per game, says she has been playing with Bardic since they were in kindergarten.
"I love playing with Ava," Sawyer said. "She's a great shooter. She can drive. She's small but she can finish well under big players even on the varsity level. I think she really helps us a lot."
Pakaski makes impact: The play of Florida Atlantic-bound senior forward Allie Tylka (20.4 ppg) is the main reason why Wauconda is 18-4, but young players have also contributed to the Bulldogs' success.
Coach Jaime Dennis also starts sophomores Ella Karg, Kiley Szmajda and Madison Carver along with freshman Jessie Pakaski. Freshman Mackenzie Arden is the first player off the bench and has started games, too.
The 5-foot-8 Pakaski has earned her starting spot with relentless energy and athleticism. A Class 2A sectional qualifier in cross country, Pakaski also runs track. She had 12 points and 8 rebounds in Wauconda's 55-50 loss to visiting Grayslake Central last Saturday night, after taking averages of 5 points and 6.4 boards per game into the contest.
"She plays beyond her years," Dennis said. "She's still a little rough around the edges skill-wise sometimes, where she'll overshoot a basket or get panicked or get her pocket picked at half-court. But I can put up with those things when she works as darn hard as she does. She'll make a mistake at one end and get down at the other end and steal the ball."
Wauconda is having its best season since going 24-4 in 2010-11.
Greenwood done: In the midst of a winning streak that reached nine games with a 51-40 decision over Lakes last Saturday afternoon, Round Lake suffered a season-ending loss.
Senior forward Courtney Greenwood tore her ACL against Antioch on Dec. 17. She was starting.
"She was never our leading scorer, but she always rebounded really well," Panthers coach Molly Hennig said. "We were a little worried (against Lakes) going up against (Mia) Edwards and some of their bigger post players. Defensively, (Greenwood) is very quick and that gave us some advantages defending other post players. She's a really scrappy player."
Edwards finished with a career-high-tying 20 points and 15 rebounds. The senior also scored 20 points against Rolling Meadows in Lakes' second game this season.
NSC race to the finish: The North Suburban Conference race will come down to the final games on the schedule.
Lake Forest (8-3), Libertyville (8-3) and Zion-Benton (7-3) sit atop the standings, with Lake Zurich (7-4) alone in fourth place. Stevenson (7-5), Mundelein (3-9), Warren (3-9) and Waukegan (0-9) comprise the bottom half.
The key upcoming games include Lake Zurich at Zion-Benton (Thursday, unless postponed due to weather), Libertyville at Lake Zurich (Friday) and Zion-Benton at Lake Forest (Feb. 7).
"It's a game of momentum," Lake Zurich coach Chris Bennett said Tuesday night after his Bears beat Stevenson for their fifth win in six games. "We had it last year. We got the momentum at the end of the year (and advanced to a Class 4A supersectional). I don't know if we have it now."
NLCC race nearly over: Grayslake Central tied for the Northern Lake County Conference championship with Grant last season and Antioch two years ago. The Rams likely won't have to share this season.
Grayslake Central is 10-0, with remaining games against Lakes, Round Lake, Antioch and Grant. The only teams close to the Rams are Round Lake (8-3) and Wauconda (7-3).