Libertyville, Stevenson likely to battle it out in NSC
It will be all about defense for the Libertyville girls basketball team this winter.
The Wildcats are hoping they get the chance to defend their back-to-back North Suburban Conference championships during this COVID-19 shortened season, and the way they would do it is with, well, defense.
"I think we can become one of the better defensive teams in the county," said Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen, whose team won its second straight NSC title last year and then advanced to the sectional semifinals after winning its third regional in four years. "Our speed, energy and athleticism will have to make up for a lack of height."
Libertyville will be guard-centric, led by a trio of experienced guards. Senior Lauren Huber is in her fourth varsity season while fellow senior guard Marianna Morrissey is in her third. Huber is the team's leading returning scorer, having averaged 10.3 points per game last season. She also pulled down 6.3 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Emily Fisher started last year as a freshman and averaged 9.2 points and 5 rebounds per game.
"We will have strong veteran leadership in the backcourt, which will benefit us in close games," Pedersen said. "We have excellent athleticism in Huber, Fisher and Morrissey. We should be able to play up-tempo and apply a good deal of pressure when needed."
As usual, Stevenson will give the North Suburban Conference another strong threat outside of Libertyville.
The Patriots return a dynamic duo on the perimeter in guards Simone Sawyer and Ava Bardic, juniors who combined for nearly 25 points per game last season at 13 points per game and 12 points per game respectively. Both were also among the team's leaders in rebounds, assists and steals as well.
Nikki Ware, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, is another starter who returns.
"Our strengths this year reside in our returning game experience and the overall chemistry of this team," Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said. "There is a lot of talent and some new young talent, but the buy-in from our seniors and the leadership on our team to welcome all the new members is one of our biggest strengths."
Grayslake Central was the most accomplished girls team in Lake County last year, advancing to the Class 3A supersectional before falling to Montini.
And even though the Rams lost four of five starters and a Division I player in Kate Bullman (Illinois State), they do return seven players from that team, including guard MK Drevline, who averaged nearly 10 points per game last season.
Drevline, who is committed to Denison, shot 36 percent from 3-point range and was named all-conference for the Northern Lake County Conference.
"We will need the girls to adapt to different roles than they had last year," Grayslake Central coach Steve Ikenn said. "But we have talented returning players and some very talented new additions to the roster who are working hard to do that. We will definitely be a different squad than we were last year, but we will still emphasize defense and team play. The players are so happy to be on the court together again. They are just working as hard as they can to be the best team we can be."
Also in the NLCC, Wauconda has the chance to make some big-time noise with three big-time threats.
The Bulldogs return three double-figure scorers in Kiley Szmajda (14.1 points per game), Ella Karg (13.6 ppg) and Mackenzie Arden (10.9 ppg).
"This group had a disappointing end to the season last year and is looking to bounce back," said Wauconda coach Jaime Dennis, whose team lost in the regional championship to Deerfield last year by 6 points. "They have some unfinished business and they are looking to avenge those losses. Day One, they were already working hard and looking determined."
Carmel is certainly unique, and that fits right in with what coach Ben Berg is preaching about for this season.
The Corsairs might have the tallest, longest team in the suburbs with 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jordan Wood and 6-foot-4 junior center Grace Sullivan patrolling the paint.
"I have told the team since the fall contact days that great teams have to be 'uncommon' in almost all that they do, let's go be 'uncommon' on a daily basis," said Berg, whose team reached the regional final last season.
Wood averaged 14.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.3 blocks per game last year as a freshman while Sullivan was at 9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last year as a sophomore.