Scouting the North Suburban Conference
Lake Zurich BearsCoach: Chris Bennett
Last season's record: 7-5, 5-2 North Suburban
Top returning players: Alayna Soukup, sr., (G), Kaylie Piggott, sr., (F), Amelia Young, sr., (G), Erin Stewart, sr., (G), Baylie Parks, jr., (G), Brooke Wahlund, jr., (F), Anna Gilbertson, soph., (F)
Top new players: Molly Friesen, fresh., (G), Avery Cooper, fresh, (G)
Worth noting: Bennett noted the Bears have seven starters back when you include part-time folks. Soukup is a four-year starter, two-time Daily Herald All-Area selection and all-state honorable mention a year ago. She's headed to Lewis. Young and Stewart are four-year varsity players. Parks averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds and earned all-NSC honors. Wahlund averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds, while Gilbertson averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds. "We have lots of experience and a great blend of ages," Bennett said. This season's Bears roster features 10 multiple-sport athletes. "I love saying that -- not enough of those kids anymore," Bennett noted. Bennett said his prediction is Lake Zurich will have a different leading scorer every night. Friesen (6-0) and Cooper (6-2) are freshmen Bennett said will play big minutes as the season progresses. Libertyville, Bennett said, is the NSC favorite until someone beats them, but added Stevenson has the potential to go Downstate. "Our sectional will be loaded with Stevenson, Fremd, Barrington, Hersey, Libertyville and Carmel, if they don't go to 3A. "I think we are just below that group," Bennett said.
Libertyville WildcatsCoach: Greg Pedersen
Last season's record: 16-2, 7-0, North Suburban champions
Top returning players: Emily Fisher, jr., (G, 6-0), Kristina Kotzan, sr., (F, 6-0)
Top new players: Kate Rule, soph., (G), Rachel Rule, soph., (G), Libby Ryan, sr., (G), Molly Koch, soph., (G), Sophia Weich, soph., (G), Madison Sears, fresh., (F), Talya Tillman, soph., (F)
Worth noting: Fisher, a Maryland recruit, was the NSC player of the year last season after averaging 15.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. She was named to the IBCA all-state team. Kotzan averaged 3.3 points and 2.5 rebounds for the Wildcats, who finished fourth in the final AP Class 4A poll last season. Ryan missed the last two seasons with different injuries. "We graduated four starters, so there are open roles available for kids who earn them," Pedersen said. "Emily is the reigning conference player of the year, and we'll look to her for leadership on the offensive and defensive end. This year, we do have an interesting mix of guards and posts who can play, so we can attack teams in different ways. What we've seen so far is an unselfish group that moves the ball well and finds good shots." Pedersen is excited for Ryan and Kotzen in their senior seasons, and see's potential with the twin Rule sisters. Pedersen labeled Stevenson the NSC favorite heading into the season.
Mundelein MustangsCoach: Greg Dorgan (fifth year, 29-75)
Last season's record: 1-10, 0-6 North Suburban
Top returning players: Gracie Werner, jr., (F), Rylan Foster, soph., (F), Allison Binz, sr., (F)
Worth noting: Mundelein has 10 players from last season's team back, including Werner, who was an NSC all-conference honorable mention selection, and is in her third year on the varsity. "I have never seen a player improve their shot like Gracie has," Dorgan said. Foster averaged 5.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, while Binz averaged 6.2 points a contest. "For my first time as a head coach, we are not starting from scratch," Dorgan said. "We have balance with four seniors, three juniors and three sophomores and someone who can handle the ball in each of those groups. We are focused on playing team basketball and not relying on one or two players to score, and competing on both ends of the floor." Dorgan said NSC top dogs could include Libertyville, Stevenson, Lake Zurich and Lake Forest.
Stevenson PatriotsCoach: Ashley Graham
Last season's record: 16-2, 6-1 North Suburban
Top returning players: Simone Sawyer, sr., (G, 5-10), Ava Bardic, sr., (PG, 5-8), Emory Klatt, soph., (G-F, 6-1), Kendell Williams, soph., (G, 5-10)
Top new players: Nisha Musunuri, fresh., (G, 5-8)
Worth noting: Stevenson has four starters back from a success-filled COVID-19-shortened season, including four-year starters Sawyer and Bardic. Sawyer, committed to Division I Penn, ranks eighth in career Stevenson scoring with 1,162 points and was an all-state and Daily Herald All-Area selection last season. Bardic is headed to Illinois-Springfield and holds the Patriots' single-season record for made 3s with 77 and ranks second in career 3s with 140 -- also a Daily Herald All-Area pick. Klatt and Williams started as freshmen. "Our strengths include our tempo in which we play offense and defense," Graham said. "We want to push the ball offensively at all times and play good, pressure-filled, hard-nosed team defense. Those will be our keys to success this year. We are quick, athletic and have height. We will be using that to our advantage within our schemes. We can shoot it well from the outside and have a strong presence in the interior." Graham said top teams in the NSC this year look to be her Stevenson squad, Libertyville, Lake Zurich and Lake Forest. "We know we are going to be challenged by our strength of schedule with our nonconference opponents as well as the strong NSC," Graham said.
Warren Blue DevilsCoach: John Stanczykiewicz
Last season's record: 7-8, 3-4 North Suburban
Top returning players: Grace Lynch, sr., (F, 6-1), Annika Gustafson, sr., (F, 6-1), Zion Levy, sr., (G, 5-8)
Top new players: Nari Powers, soph., (F, 6-0), Mariah Phelps, soph., (G, 5-7), Angela Trueleson, sr., (G, 5-6)
Worth noting: Hall of Fame coach Stanczykiewicz said this squad has the potential to be Warren's best in four years. The Blue Devils have added three transfers (Phelps is eligible to play Nov. 21) and several others who did not play with the team in the summer. Trueleson is back after not playing last year. Stanczykiewicz said size inside and quickness on the perimeter will be strengths with Powers and Phelps providing scoring potential from the perimeter. "Holding us back early will be unfamiliarity with each other," he said. "The beginning of the season will be bumpy, but if our returning players can give us stability while we learn how to play basketball at the varsity level and with each other, we could have a strong finish to the season." He added the team is working hard on the defensive end. Stanczykiewicz said look out for Stevenson and Libertyville in the NSC.