Scouting Lake County for the 2019-20 season
CENTRAL SUBURBAN LEAGUE NORTH DIVISION
VERNON HILLS COUGARSCoach: Paul Brettner (20th season)
Last season: 15-13, 8-2 in CSL North, lost to Zion-Benton in Class 4A Vernon Hills regional semifinals
Key losses: F Kayla Caudle (DePaul University), G Piper Bedell
Returning players: Sr. G Emily Singer (5-5), Sr. G Kylie Bunning (5-9), Sr. F Lauren Shores (5-8), Sr. G Abby Brown (5-7), Jr. G Daniella Jarrell (5-10), Sr. G Brynn Ziemke (5-3), Sr. F Laine Lutgens (5-8), Sr. G Olivia Sweeney (5-5), Sr. G Lily Blase (5-8)
Newcomers: Fr. G Alexa Cieslinski (5-110, Fr. F Grace Koepke (6-3), So. G Grace Guillaume (5-5), Jr. G Emmy Woodrow (5-6), Jr. G Jessie Biede (5-3), Jr. G Evelyn Leary (5-5), Jr. G Emma Demas (5-7)
Outlook: The Cougars graduated a four-year varsity post player in Kayla Caudle, who's playing her freshman season at DePaul, but added a pair of tall, skilled freshmen who have big potential. Freshman Grace Koepke is a 6-3 post player. "I think she's going to contribute right away and then just keep growing in terms of her high school varsity career," said Paul Brettner, the only head coach in the history of the Cougars' program, which is celebrating its 20th season. "She's a nice player to have as a freshman, for sure." Alexa Cieslinski is a 5-11 guard/forward who played varsity volleyball this fall. "She's a pretty skilled basketball player," Brettner said. "She'll find ways to contribute early as well." The returning players include junior scoring guard Daniella Jarrell, who's playing her third varsity season, and senior guard Kylie Bunning, who's also been on varsity since her freshman year. Senior guards Emily Singer and Abby Brown have been on varsity the last two winters as well. Singer tore her ACL last January but didn't miss any time in the preseason. With Caudle (1,206 career points, school-record 1,086 rebounds) gone, the Cougars will have a share-the-ball approach. "It's hard to say what we'll do defensively until we see some kids," Brettner said. "(Offensively), we're hoping to push the pace a little bit. We're also going to have a lot of ball movement. We were pretty good last year with a dominant post (Caudle), but this year I think we're going to hopefully find different ways to score."
EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC CONFERENCE
CARMEL CATHOLIC CORSAIRSCoach: Ben Berg (third season, fifth overall)
Last season: 16-18, 2-5 in ESCC, won Class 3A Grayslake Central regional, lost to St. Viator in Carmel sectional final
Key losses: F Brigit Barr, G Caitlin Teehan, G Shai Horton
Returning players: Sr. G Katie Lach (5-10), Sr. F Kaytlyn Matz (6-0), So. C Grace Sullivan (6-3), Jr. G Lily Coulthard (5-8), Jr. G Emma Berg (5-7), Sr. G Becca Curley (5-3)
Newcomers: Fr. F Jordan Wood (6-4), Fr. F Mia Gillis (6-1), So. F Grace O'Malley (5-11), Jr. G Jordyn Zelich (5-6), Jr. G Rachel Blaha (5-6½), Jr. G Anahi Gonzalez (5-6)
Outlook: Inspired by author Michele Borba's book, "Unselfie," which is about how to raise an empathetic child in an unempathetic world, coach Ben Berg has a nickname for his Corsairs. "I call them my 'Unselfies,' " Berg said, "because they care about the team first. ... This is as tight and close of a group as I've been around, in any sport. They're fun to coach. They energize me." Freshman Jordan Wood should energize the Corsairs' fans. The 6-4 Wood, who graduated from Jack Benny Middle School in Waukegan, already has offers from Illinois and Iowa. "In high school, she's a 'stretch 4' and probably in college she'll be more of a '3' or stretch '4,' depending on how teams play," Berg said. "That's what excites college coaches when they see her -- her height, her length, she can handle the ball, and she sees the floor." Wood, who's also a "really good teammate," Berg said, won't be the Corsairs' only player with height and athleticism. While 6-1 freshman forward Mia Gillis could miss the first month of the season with a fracture in her foot, the Corsairs welcome back 6-foot senior forward Kaytlyn Matz, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury after starting for a 17-win team as a sophomore. A team captain, Matz recently received an offer from NAIA Colorado Christian College. "She's as good of an all-around player and leader as I've had," Berg said. "She can do a little bit of everything -- score inside, score outside, handle the ball, defend multiple positions, play different positions in our offense." Grace Sullivan started as a freshman last winter, and the 6-3 center is even better, Berg said. Sullivan can run the floor and should be a defensive presence with her length and athleticism. "I probably saw her in the first week and a half of practice block more shots than I saw almost all of last year in practice," Berg said. "She's anticipating better and she's seeing things better." The Corsairs also have shooters, including four-year varsity player Katie Lach, Emma Berg (the coach's daughter), Lily Coulthard and newcomer Anahi Gonzalez. "We're pretty deep," Coach Berg said. "We can go 9, 10, 11 deep."
NORTHERN LAKE COUNTY CONFERENCE
ANTIOCH SEQUOITSCoach: Tim Borries (13th season)
Last season: 5-24, 3-11 in NLCC, lost to Resurrection in Class 3A Resurrection regional semifinals
Key losses: G Piper Foote, F Rachel Phillips
Returning players: Jr. G Hailey Webb (5-4), Jr. G Gianna Riforgiato (5-7), Jr. F Erin Miller (5-9), Sr. F Miranda Chamberlin (5-9), Sr. C Skylar Del'ao (6-2), Sr. G Molly Volkmar (5-5), Jr. F Faith Miller (5-10), So. F/C Avery Larson (6-3)
Newcomers: Jr. G Allyson Pierce (5-5), Jr. G Cassidy Thomas (5-6), Jr. C Jada Shaputis (6-1)
Outlook: The twins graduated, and since then the Sequoits have had nearly twin seasons -- identical in that inexperienced teams haven't had a go-to player and haven't had much success on the court. Guards Ashley and Amy Reiser led Antioch to a Class 3A supersectional for the second time in three years in 2018, but the Sequoits have won 16 games since their departure. If Antioch can take of the ball and defend in the half court this winter, the Sequoits can easily double, or even possibly triple, their win total of last season. The biggest reason for optimism is bigs. Even when the Sequoits won 109 games in four seasons with the Reisers, they lacked height. This season's squad boasts versatile 6-3 Avery Larson, 6-2 center Skylar Del'ao, 6-1 center Jada Shaputis and 5-10 forward Faith Miller. Miller, whose twin, Erin (5-9), also should contribute, has been starting on varsity since her freshman year two seasons ago and can be effective both on the wing and inside. Larson, who can play all five positions, started last winter as a freshman and can handle the ball. The senior Del'ao has accumulated varsity experience since she was a freshman, and the junior Shaputis was a late-season call-up last winter. Gianna Riforgiato, Hailey Webb, Erin Miller, Miranda Chamberlin and Molly Volkmar also played a lot last season. "If experience counts, we're going to be OK," coach Tim Borries said. The question is whether the Sequoits can take care of the ball, break pressure and run their offense effectively. "We may struggle with it, but I think we can get through it with Avery Larson and with Faith Miller, and Erin Miller can bring the ball up," Borries said. "We have enough ballhandlers that can do the job. Will they be a true point guard like Ashley (Reiser)? No. But if they can manage the game, we're going to be a tough out. We're learning to compete."
GRANT BULLDOGSCoach: Kevin Geist (third season)
Last season: 16-13, 8-6 in NLCC, lost to Grayslake North in Class 4A Hersey regional play-in
Key losses: G Ally Mahinay, F Brooke Karpinske
Returning players: Jr. F/C Jazzlyn Linbo (6-2), So. G MaCalyn Flores (5-0), Sr. F/C Katelynn Dupree (5-9), So. G/F Kylie Whyte (5-10), So. G/F Cora Hughs (5-7), So. F/C Ashlyn Santos (5-9), Sr. G Nicolette Kouvelias (5-5), Sr. G Kaitlyn Flader (5-4)
Newcomers: Jr. G Ashlee Bauer (5-4), So. G Miranda Rodriguez (5-3)
Outlook: Ally Mahinay could penetrate and score, Brooke Karpinske could fill it up from anywhere on the perimeter, and Jazzlyn Linbo could handle the low-post scoring. With Mahinay and Karpinske having graduated, however, the Bulldogs might have to win differently this season. "We're going to have to win a lot of games with our defense and toughness," said coach Kevin Geist, adding his team will rely mostly on juniors and sophomores to carry the load, while his seniors will provide leadership. The Bulldogs may be young, but most of the players on their roster saw plenty of playing-time last winter. The 6-2 Linbo, Katelynn Dupree and diminutive point guard MaCalyn Flores all started. Linbo (13.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.2 bpg) earned all-area honors as a sophomore and then picked up an offer from Indiana State over the summer. She has three-point range. "She really blossomed last year and then over the summer she got a little bit of confidence," Geist said of his three-year varsity starter, who was an all-area volleyball player this fall. "I think a weight was lifted from her shoulders (after receiving the Indiana State offer), and you can tell it from her play. She plays with a little more enthusiasm, for lack of a better word. She's stepped up to help out as many as the girls as possible. She's just an absolute pleasure to coach." Cora Hughs, Kaitlyn Flader, Nicolette Kouvelias and Kylie Whyte also played a lot last season. Flores, Hughs, Whyte and Santos were freshmen. "I'm pretty optimistic," Geist said. "We had a really good summer. We're coming together, trying to put some new things in and seeing how everyone meshes. We got really good kids with really good attitudes, and they all want to play well."
GRAYSLAKE CENTRAL RAMSCoach: Steve Ikenn (10th season)
Last season: 23-8, 14-0 in NLCC (first), lost to Carmel in Class 3A Grayslake Central regional final
Key losses: G Rosie Drevline (Denison University), PG Maura Fitzgerald (DePauw University)
Returning players: Sr. F/G Kate Bullman (6-2), Sr. F/G Amanda Kocialkowski (5-10), Sr. G Madeline Mussay (5-6), Jr. G MK Drevline (5-8), Sr. G Lauryn Cartee (5-7)
Newcomers: So. F Courtney Fletcher (5-9), So. F Piper Gallaher (5-11), So. F Carissa Guerrier (5-9), So. G Mia Lennartz (5-7), So. G Monica Schleg (5-7), So. G/F Isabella Vogeler (5-7)
Outlook: On a team full of athletes, the leader will be the tallest one and one of the better ones in all of Lake County. Rams forward/guard Kate Bullman signed with Illinois State last week after giving a verbal commitment to the Redbirds last spring. The 6-2 Bullman just completed an all-area volleyball campaign and will look to collect all-area honors in basketball for the third year in a row. "I'm expecting her to just be herself and not try to do anything more than that," Rams coach Steve Ikenn said. "She is just a great all-around player. She's really embraced leadership and mentorship of the younger kids. In practice, she's like having another coach out there. Each year she's increased her scoring and rebounding, and I don't see any reason why that would change." Bullman and forward Amanda Kocialkowski are the Rams' only returning starters, however. Guards MK Drevline and Madeline Mussay were two of Ikenn's first players off the bench last winter and figure to start this winter along with senior guard Lauryn Cartee. Of the 11 players on the roster, six are sophomores, none of whom played on varsity last season. "There aren't a lot of juniors in the program, and the sophomores really stepped up," Ikenn said. "They'll be our bench. They'll play a lot." Sophomore Piper Gallaher is a 5-11 post and the tallest Ram other than Bullman. Ikenn calls sophomores Mia Lennartz and Monica Schleg solid guards and describes their classmate Isabella Vogeler as a tough defender at the wing who can also play the post. Sophomores Courtney Fletcher and Carissa Guerrier are athletic posts. "They all have something to offer," Ikenn said of his sophomores. "The thing I like about (the team) is they're all hardworking kids, and they're an athletic group. Everybody on the roster is a good athlete, so that gives us some flexibility. The inexperience will certainly test us early."
GRAYSLAKE NORTH KNIGHTSCoach: Roger Lass (first season)
Last season: 10-22, 5-9 in NLCC, lost to Hersey in Class 4A Hersey regional semifinals
Key losses: F Savannah Guenther (Northwest Missouri State University), G Margaret Stanfel, G Jordyn Gerdes
Returning players: Sr. G Morgan Atwell (5-7), Sr. F Eden Hartigan (5-11), Sr. F Kaitlyn Kukis (5-8), Sr. G Hannah Kutsch (5-5), Sr. G Faith Standerski (5-4), Jr. G Jayden Curtis (5-8), Jr. G Meghan Leahy (5-7), Jr. G Grace Wamser (5-8)
Newcomers: Fr. F Peyton Gerdes (5-10), Jr. G Meghan Delahunty (5-3), Jr. G Sarina Low (5-8)
Outlook: New coach, new look. Longtime Lake County coach Roger Lass, who assisted at Lakes the last five years and served as head coach at Grayslake Central from 2007-2010, takes over from Rob Nicoleti, who stepped down following last season. The Knights relied heavily on Savannah Guenther the last three seasons, but with Guenther (17 ppg, 7 rpg last season) playing collegiately at Northwest Missouri State, Lass needs to find players who can put the ball in the basket. Guards Faith Standerski, who last week signed to play softball at Northern Iowa, and Jayden Curtis are the team's only returning starters. Guards Grace Wamser and Meghan Leahy and 5-11 Eden Hartigan all played last season and will have larger roles this winter. "We're hoping to be more balanced and harder to guard because we won't have that one superstar," Lass said. "The big challenge for the girls who were on the team last year is to not want to look for Savannah and (instead) look to score themselves and look to set up their teammates for shots." Freshman forward Peyton Gerdes will contribute immediately, and the veteran players bring a variety of skill sets. "Faith (Standerski) is definitely going to be our leader on the floor," Lass said. "Grace Wamser had a great summer, and I think she'll be one of our better scorers. Morgan Atwell does a lot of things well. Leahy can shoot. Jayden Curtis is tough inside and at taking the ball to the basket, and is a really good athlete. Gerdes can shoot it too. She's 5-10 but she can shoot from outside, and she's pretty tough inside too."
LAKES EAGLESCoach: Brian Phelan (fifth season)
Last season: 13-17, 6-8 in NLCC, lost to Mundelein in Class 4A Mundelein regional play-in
Key losses: G Sara Smith (Benedictine University), F Mia Edwards (Edgewood College), G Kylie Jozwiak (Augustana College), G Brittany Washington, G Taylor Lehman
Returning players: Jr. G Rosie Tekampe, Jr. F Ally Dietz, Sr. F Grace Sullivan
Newcomers: Sr. F Ashlyn Bledsoe, Sr. F Karlee Skinner, Sr. G Sydney Zellmann, Jr. G Addilyn Stephens, So. G Cierra Fleming, So. G Kailey Gara, So. F Chloe Kilroy, Fr. G Kendall Phelan
Outlook: It's not starting from "zero" like they did in the winter of 2005, when they played the first varsity game in their history -- then won zero games each of their first two seasons. But the Eagles are rebuilding. Sara Smith, Mia Edwards, Kylie Jozwik and Brittany Washington graduated after starting on varsity each of the last two seasons and leading the Eagles to 29 wins. This season, only junior point guard Rosie Tekampe and 5-11 junior forward Ally Dietz return with significant varsity experience. "The fun part of this journey is just you're starting over and you're assuming everybody is at zero," coach Brian Phelan said. "You go to practice, you do a drill, you tweak and twist. It's a lot of coaching, a lot of feedback." The only freshman on the roster is kid who thinks like a coach. She's the coach's daughter. Kendall Phelan (5-5) is a "hybrid" player ("not a point guard, but not a center," her dad says) and "definitely heady," her dad adds. Coach Phelan's opening-night lineup this week was expected to feature Tekampe, Dietz, sophomore guard Kailey Gara, sophomore guard Cierra Fleming and senior forward Grace Sullivan. "We start from zero and just slowly build," Coach Phelan said. "We're building our defense, first. We've been spending a lot of time on the defensive end, putting in an atypical defense. The girls are getting used to that, some new wrinkles. We're getting away from man-to-man and playing more of a matchup zone." Phelan will keep the offense simple, for now. "They're all good kids, they all get along, and there's no challenging off-the-court stuff," Phelan said. "They're all ears, all eyes, no mouth. They're like little sponges taking everything in that we have to offer."
ROUND LAKE PANTHERSCoach: Molly Hennig (second season)
Last season: 21-10, 10-4 in NLCC, lost to Stevenson in Class 4A Hersey regional semifinals
Key losses: G Diane Flade, G Emily Etherington (College of Lake County), F Sam Nicoline (College of Lake County), G Giselle Raygoza, F Courtney Greenwood
Returning players: So. G Taylor Major (5-8), So. C Amari Cole (6-0), Jr. F Karla Marin (5-8), Jr. G Karina Irigollen (5-7)
Newcomers: Fr. G Lilli Burton (5-11), Sr. G Jessica Leitl (5-1), Sr. G Yessica Perez (5-4), Jr. G Ariea Williams (5-4), Sr. G Idalis Martinez (5-2), Sr. F MacKenzie Koch (5-7), Jr. G Analy Cortez (5-5), Jr. F Victoria Eckstein (5-8), Jr. F Jailyn Drane (5-9)
Outlook: The Panthers hope a Major loss will be soothed by a major addition. "We've been waiting for her to finally get to high school," Panthers coach Molly Hennig said of Lilli Burton. A 5-11 freshman guard, Burton played varsity volleyball this fall and is also a good softball player. "She can shoot the ball and she drives incredibly well for a freshman," Hennig said. "Just her court awareness (is impressive). The passes she makes in practice are incredible." Unfortunately for the Panthers, Burton won't team up immediately with sophomore point guard Taylor Major. Major, who averaged nearly 11 points per game last season, tore her ACL in May. It was the same knee that sidelined her for 13 straight games from late November to late December last season. Hennig hopes to have Major back sometime in January. "She was a leader on the floor for us and we're still seeing that at practice, even without her being able to do everything," Hennig said. "She was working on her shot (before the injury) and that was improving. And she was our leading rebounder when she came back last year so, defensively, it even hurts us." Amari Cole, a 6-0 sophomore, showed at times last season that she can be a disrupter in the low post while adding occasional offense. "She improved a lot over the summer," Hennig said. "Defensively, she's really stepped up. She's able to rebound even better than last year, and in the post she's developed a repertoire of moves." Karla Marin got minutes off the bench last season and improved her shot over the summer playing with the Lake County Challengers, Hennig said. Karina Irigollen tore her ACL as a freshman two years ago and played only sparingly last season. Junior Ariea Williams will play point guard until Major gets back. "We're hoping for another great season, but we've also adjusted our goals and priorities," Hennig said. "We're looking for development from the girls who haven't played varsity basketball, especially to start the season. This summer they were all really committed, and they really improved. We're hoping to see a quick transition."
WAUCONDA BULLDOGSCoach: Jaime Dennis (11th season)
Last season: 21-6, 10-4 in NLCC, lost to Prospect in Class 4A Mundelein regional semifinals
Key losses: F Allie Tylka (Florida Atlantic University)
Returning players: Jr. C Kiley Szmajda (5-11), Jr. G Ella Karg (5-6), So. F Mackenzie Arden (5-8), So. G Jessie Pakaski (5-10), Sr. C Audrey Deaver (5-10), Sr. F Karly Pikel (5-10), Sr. F Morgan Lung (5-9), Sr. F Grace Poduch (5-6), Sr. G Jennifer Rudd (5-3)
Newcomers: Jr. G Lluvia Sanchez (5-4), So. G/F Kaitlyn Jerard (5-8), Jr. G/F Madelyn Sinnott (5-9), Jr. G/F Miranda McGraw (5-9)
Outlook: The Bulldogs hit the 20-win mark for the first time in eight years last season, but they graduated one of the best players in their history. Allie Tylka capped a four-year varsity career by averaging 19.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.8 steals and 2.9 assists per game and was named captain of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team. The Bulldogs are not rebuilding, however, as Tylka was their only senior starter last winter. Back are junior point guard Ella Karg (8.1 ppg), junior center Kiley Szmajda (10.7 ppg), sophomore forward Mackenzie Arden and sophomore guard Jessie Pakaski, who just earned all-state honors (Class 2A) in cross country. Karg and Szmajda both played varsity as freshmen, as did fellow junior Lluvia Sanchez, who's back after not playing last season. Szmajda (the Bulldogs' tallest player at 5-11), Arden and Pakaski all rebound the ball well and can provide offense. Of the five seniors on the roster, only forward Morgan Lung played regular minutes last season.
NORTH SUBURBAN CONFERENCE
LAKE ZURICH BEARSCoach: Chris Bennett (15th season)
Last season: 16-15, 9-5 in NSC, lost to Buffalo Grove in Class 4A Lake Forest regional semifinals
Key losses: F Maddy Piggott, G Anna Biergans, G Brigid Ferguson
Returning players: Sr. G Ella Gilbertson (6-0), Sr. G Margueret Spear (5-8), So. G Alayna Soukup (5-9), So. G Amelia Young (5-5), So. F Elyssa Adams (5-7), So. G Erin Stewart (5-6), So. F Kaylie Piggott (6-0), Sr. G Kyleen Marquardt (5-8)
Newcomers: Fr. G Emma Barker (5-10), Fr. G Baylie Parks (5-10), Fr. G Brooke Wahlund (5-10), Jr. G Ashley Geisler (5-7), Sr. G Edyta Kardasz (5-5)
Outlook: Bears coach Chris Bennett says he's already used the current Chicago Bulls as an analogy for his team. Being young and talented doesn't necessarily translate to immediate success on the court. Sometimes, young teams (see Bulls) need to learn to finish out games. "We're going to be young, but I think we'll be competitive," Bennett said. "We're going to have to learn how to win." LZ features a mix of veteran talent, led by four-year varsity starter and returning all-area player Ella Gilbertson, and young skill, led sophomore point guard Alayna Soukup. The 6-foot Gilbertson, who recently accepted a full ride to the University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA Division II), Soukup and guard Margueret Spear give the Bears three returning starters. Gilbertson averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season. She and Spear (honorable mention) were all-conference selections. The newcomers include a trio of 5-10 freshman guards: Emma Barker, Baylie Parks and Brooke Wahlund. "They're all good-sized kids, and they all have multiple skills," Bennett said. "None of them is a pure guard or a pure forward. They can all play a little bit of both. They're very talented kids for their age. They're all going to play minutes." The roster also features five sophomores, but only Soukup logged lots of minutes last winter. "I think there's a lot of different things we can do," Bennett said. "I think we're still trying to discover exactly what it is we can do. I know that we're going to try to get out and run a little bit more, and I think we've got more shooters than we've had in the past."
LIBERTYVILLE WILDCATSCoach: Greg Pedersen (eighth season)
Last season: 23-8, 11-3 in NSC (first), won Class 4A Vernon Hills regional, lost to Lake Forest in Libertyville sectional semifinal
Key losses: F Maddie Spaulding
Returning players: Sr. G Margaret Buchert (5-7), Sr. G Lydia Crow (5-8), Sr. F Abigail Frea (5-11), Sr. G Brooke Bair (5-9), Jr. G Lauren Huber (5-10), Jr. G Marianna Morrissey (5-7), Jr. G Elise Rodriquez (5-8), Jr. G Morgan Spaulding (5-10)
Newcomers: Fr. G Emily Fisher (5-11), Jr. G Kelsey Van Matre (5-7), Jr. G Annalese Chudy (5-5), So. F Kristina Kotzan (6-1)
Outlook: The debut of promising freshman Emily Fisher will be delayed. The immediate success of the Wildcats should not be. The defending NSC champs graduated low-post presence Maddie Spaulding but return a trio of all-area players in guards Margaret Buchert, Lydia Crow and Lauren Huber. Buchert (13.8 ppg, 61 3-pointers last season) is playing her third season as a varsity starter and recently committed to DePauw University. Crow (12.3 ppg, school-record 85 3-pointers, 206 career 3s) is playing her fourth varsity campaign, is a two-time all-area selection and recently committed to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Then there's Huber (8.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), who's a junior starting for the third year in a row on varsity. "She looks amazing," said coach Greg Pedersen, noting Huber and Buchert will serve as team captains. "She's so much improved. We already knew she was a defensive force, and we already knew she could distribute the ball and find open people and make things happen. But she's taken her offensive game to another level." Fisher will bring another dimension to the Wildcats. This past summer the 5-11 guard received an offer from Iowa State, where her mother, Renee, played. Fisher, who also plays soccer, is out indefinitely with an injury. Pedersen describes her as strong and physical. "What she excels at is getting to the paint and getting to the rim," Pedersen said. "She is probably the best finisher that we've seen play for us in the last decade, for sure, maybe ever. She's going to be fantastic." In Marianna Morrissey, who played on varsity last season as a sophomore, the Wildcats have an exceptional athlete who defends tenaciously. Returning starter Abigail Frea and Brooke Bair give the Wildcats two more reliable veterans. "We feel good about our leadership, and we feel good about our basketball knowledge and just the intelligence we have on the floor," Pedersen said. "We want to become one of the better defensive teams our school has ever had, so every day we're just really driving home defense, defense, partly because we already know the offense is there."
MUNDELEIN MUSTANGSCoach: Greg Dorgan (third season)
Last season: 10-21, 3-11 in NSC, lost to Fremd in Class 4A Mundelein regional semifinals
Key losses: F Kendall Klatt, G Kadra Balla, G Eva Thier
Returning players: Sr. F Morgan Frank (5-11), Sr. G Damia Ali (5-3)
Newcomers: Sr. G De-Avionce Sanders (5-0), Jr. F Tess McKay (5-6), Jr. F Ava Vogt (5-10), Jr. F Zoe Haith (5-2), So. G Brenda Mondragon (5-1), So. F Allison Binz (5-8), Fr. F Gracie Werner (5-6), Fr. F Mila Photopoulos (5-8)
Outlook: When he took over as head coach two years ago, Greg Dorgan envisioned a 2019-20 squad led by versatile senior Morgan Frank and other players in their second or third season on varsity. Frank, a starter since her freshman year and two-time all-area selection, signed last week with Colgate University, but she and senior guard Damia Ali are the Mustangs' only returning players. Three would-be returning starters, including forward Kendall Klatt (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater softball commit), did not come out and are, instead, focusing on other sports. Their unexpected departures, along with senior Courtney Brunkow (multiple ACL injuries) not playing, help explain why numbers in the program are low. "We didn't have an eighth-grade feeder team last year, so we knew the freshman numbers were going to be low," Dorgan said. "What we weren't expecting was the multisport athletes to leave basketball. ... We went from 60 (players) to 30." At least the Mustangs have a go-to player in Frank (13.8 ppg, 7 rpg, 2,1 apg, 2.7 spg, 2.5 bpg), who's played multiple positions the last three winters. She can bring the ball up the floor, attack from either wing, drain 3-pointers and score in the low post as well. This season, especially with so many of her teammates not having varsity experience, she will be counted on for her leadership. Frank, Ali, who played a lot last season and has improved her game, Dorgan says, and junior Tess McKay serve as team captains. Dorgan counts only 10 players on his roster. "Those are the girls we're focused on," he said. "Some of them are (former) JV players who have climbed the ranks. They played freshman basketball and then JV last year and have made their way to varsity." Dorgan likes junior Ava Vogt's toughness and rebounding ability. Freshmen Gracie Werner and Mila Photopoulos played with the varsity all summer. Another positive for the program is the addition of former Mustangs star Maggie Mahar to the coaching staff. Mahar, who played collegiately for Judson, is finishing student-teaching and will be volunteering at the varsity level. Dorgan calls her a "great role model" for the young players in his program.
STEVENSON PATRIOTSCoach: Ashley Graham (fifth season)
Last season: 22-10, 9-5 in NSC, lost to Hersey in Class 4A Hersey regional final
Key losses: G Krissy Hill
Returning players: Sr. G/F Avery King (5-11), Jr. G Nikki Ware (5-5), So. G Simone Sawyer (5-10), So. G Ava Bardic (5-7), Jr. G Lydia Lueck (5-5), Sr. G/F Nikki Kolz (5-10), Jr. G Carly King (5-6)
Newcomers: Jr. G Emily Chowaniec (5-6), Jr. G Sophie Lichtenstein (5-9), Jr. G/F Haley Barnes (5-10), Jr. F Emma Potocki (6-0), Jr. G/F Ella Wicklund (6-0)
Outlook: An opening-week game against Montini was just the start of what promises to be a challenging schedule for the Patriots. In early January, they'll also play three-time defending Michigan state champ and national power Detroit Edison as part of Glenbard West's "Grow The Game Shootout." The NSC is filled with teams boasting college-bound players too. "Our schedule is probably the toughest it's been since I've been here," Patriots coach Ashley Graham said. "We take great pride in that. It's very exciting, and I think it just makes us better for the end of the season." Likewise, Stevenson should make any opponent better in the long run. The Patriots return four starters, including four-year varsity player Avery King (14.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.6 bpg last season), who's committed to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and sophomore guard Simone Sawyer (13.8 ppg), who picked up her first Division-I offers (Indiana State, St. Louis) in the off-season. Sawyer was a Day-1 starter last season and put together an all-area campaign. "She's such a fierce competitor," said Graham, who notes the 5-10 Sawyer is taller this year. "She's got such a toughness and grit about her that not everybody on the team brings." King has improved every year since she was a freshman. "She just lives and breathes the game of basketball," Graham said. "I'll hear stories of her doing agility drills or ballhandling drills in her basement. In terms of her confidence and mental game, she's gotten so much stronger. She's such a tough matchup because of her length. She's going to leave here like top five in shots blocked, and she's about 300 points away from 1,000. She's just a really special player." Guards Nikki Ware and Ava Bardic are the Patriots' other two returning starters. Both players can shoot from the perimeter and handle the ball, while Lydia Lueck gives the team another shooter. Ware, King and junior Carly King (Avery's sister) serve as team captains. "I think that every one of our returners has taken a step forward," Graham said. "It's just a hungry, young group."
WARREN BLUE DEVILSCoach: John Stanczykiewicz (21st season)
Last season: 10-19, 5-9 in NSC, lost to Lake Forest in Class 4A Lake Forest regional semifinals
Key losses: G Jataia Harris, F Dana Lundtveit, F Breleigh Gula
Returning players: Sr. F Macy Kocen (5-10), Sr. F Trenise Powe (5-8), Jr. G Caroline Sharpe (5-7), Sr. G Julia Retter (5-8), Sr. G Jesette Ezernack (5-5), Sr. F Valeria Arroyo (5-10), Jr. F Micaila Kline (5-10), Jr. G/F Kelsey McGraw (5-11), So. G Angie Truelsen (5-4)
Newcomers: Jr. G Sara Boutelle (5-7), So. F Grace Lynch (6-1), Fr. G Zion Levy (5-7), So. F Symone Parent (5-8), So. F Annika Gustafson (6-1)
Outlook: A year after winning 25 games with a group led by Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team co-captains Kaylen Dickson (Wake Forest) and Jordyn Hughes (Eastern Illinois), the Blue Devils struggled to find their identity without their two graduated stars. The team played better in the second half of the season, going 7-6 in their final 13 games after a 3-13 start. The Blue Devils should be led this season by three-year varsity forward Macy Kocen, who started on the 2017-18 team and then earned honorable mention all-NSC honors last season. The Blue Devils have nearly 10 players who played varsity minutes last season. The newcomers include a pair of 6-1 sophomores in Grace Lynch and Annika Gustafson and freshman guard Zion Levy.