Scouting the Northern Lake County Conference
Antioch SequoitsCoach: Tim Borries
Last season's record: 5-7
Top returning players: Avery Larson, sr., (C, 6-2), Callie Bemis, Jr, (G, 5-6), Campbell Lazarz, Jr, (G, 5-6), Mia Kaiser, Jr, (G, 5-7), Arianna Nikolov, sr., (G, 5-6)
Top new players: Nicole Kutcher, soph., (G, 5-7)
Worth noting: Larson is a returning four-year starter for the Sequoits, but sat out much of last season due to injury. Borries said at any given time he could have four point guards on the floor at the same time, thus ball-handling and shooting will be strengths. "Because they can handle the ball, they are able to create shot opportunities, which we are hoping to capitalize off of because we have several players who have worked on their shots in the offseason and are ready to be a scoring threat," he said. Juniors Bemis, Lazarz and Kaiser have been playing AAU basketball and come into this season with significant skills improvement, Borries noted. "They have matured a lot as players during the offseason," he said.
Grant BulldogsCoach: Anna Bartels
Last season's record: 6-7, 3-4 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: MaCalyn Flores, sr., (G,), Cora Hughs, sr., (G), Ashlyn Santos, sr., (F), Meadow Walker, sr.
Top new players: Nevada Holm, soph., (F), Alyssa Sandquist, soph., (F), Lily Capulong, fresh., (G)
Worth noting: Flores, was all-NLCC after averaging 11 points last year, while Hughs also averaged 11 points and Santos averaged 6 points. Those three are four-year varsity players. "I am excited to see them play together one final time," Bartels said. Walker will help Grant with her 3-point shoot and aggressive play on defense. "She is all over the floor, never losing a spark of energy," Bartels said. Bartels added Grant is undersized, so use of speed will be a key. Team chemistry is off the charts. "What impresses me the most is the team bond," Bartels said. "These girls work, flow and know one another's moves so well on the court. It is a great connection and fun to watch." In terms of the NLCC: "Every conference game will be a challenge," Bartels said. "Our defense will need to step up every game."
Grayslake Central RamsCoach: Steve Ikenn
Last season's record: 11-1, 7-0, Northern Lake County champions
Top returning players: Piper Gallaher, sr., (F), Carissa Guerrier, sr., (F), Mia Lennartz, sr., (PG), Monica Schleg, sr., (SG)
Top new players: Madison Hoffmann, fresh., (F-G), Annie Wolff, fresh., (G)
Worth noting: Gallaher, who recently was named to the Daily Herald All-Area girls volleyball team, is back after an all-conference 11.2-point and 5.7-rebound-per game effort last season. Guerrier moves into a starting role this season (4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds off bench as junior), while seniors Lennartz and Schleg combined to average more than 12 points and 4 assists during the spring season. "We are a senior-led team and those seniors have played in big games over the years and had success in those games, "Ikenn said. "We should be a very balanced team so on any given night you may need to keep your eyes on a different player." Ikenn added his team is unselfish on and off the floor. "This team shares the ball well and has welcomed new players into the fold regardless of their year in school," he said. Ikenn noted Courtney Fletcher, Katie Dinsmore and Isa Hollenstein will play more expanded roles this season. Ikenn said the NLCC race is a tough one to handicap given last season's uncertainties, but said Grant and Wauconda are perennial favorites and Antioch also should be strong.
Grayslake North KnightsCoach: Roger Lass
Last season's record: 7-4, 6-4 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Peyton Gerdes, Jr, (F), Dani Hanson, Jr, (G), Reagan Kuzynowski, Jr, (G), Abbie Kukis, sr., (G-F), Kayla Keaskowski, sr., (G-F)
Top new players: Emily Hansen, sr., (F), Tara Mydral, Jr, (G), Morgan Flynn, Jr, (G), Anneke Holm, Jr, (G), Makayla Campbell, soph., (F), Ryann Bernardi, soph., (G), Jeana Roscoe, soph., (G)
Worth noting: Lass said defense and team chemistry are calling cards for the Knights heading into the season. "The girls all get along and have become close already, which is key for any team," he said. "We have a wide range of experience, and I am impressed by how fast they are picking things up in practice and how they help each other out." Gerdes averaged 17.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game on the way to all-NLCC and Daily Herald All-Area honors a year ago. Lass likes the development of Hanson and Campbell. Hanson moves into the starting point guard this season, while Campbell "has a lot of potential to be a very good player," Lass said. Lass sees Grayslake Central as the conference favorite "until someone beats them," with Wauconda up there as well. "The conference is more balanced this year than it has been for a while," he said.
Lakes EaglesCoach: Brian Phelan
Last season's record: 1-9, 1-9 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Riley Beerbower, soph., (G) Amanda Dietz, Jr, (G), Cierra Fleming, sr., (G), Kailey Gara, sr., (G), Sarah Lucier, sr., (G), Jessica Oman, Jr, (G), Kendall Phelan, Jr, (G), Jessica Ross, soph., (G), Inclarity Turney, soph., (G), Nia Wright, soph., (G)
Top new players: Paige-Elicia Caruth, soph., (G), Janae Pullen, soph., (G)
Worth noting: Phelan said the Eagles will move to a run-and-gun style of play. "We are excited about our speed and athletic ability," he said. Phelan has been impressed with how his players all get along together. Looking at the Northern Lake County landscape, Phelan gives the conference favorite designation to Grayslake Central.
Round Lake PanthersCoach: Molly Hennig
Last season's record: 6-5, 3-4 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Amari Cole, sr., (C), Taylor Major, sr., (G), Lilli Burton, Jr, (G)
Top new players: Lisette Herrera, fresh., (G), Evelyn Vazquez, fresh., (G), Isabel Montes, soph., (G), Judy Cerroblanco, soph., (F), Allison Dittmer, Jr, (G), Zayair Schofield, Jr, (G), Zoe Ramsey, Jr, (F), Jaqui Oropeza, Jr, (F)
Worth noting: Cole, Major and Burton have four all-conference awards between them with Burton earning honors in 2020 and 2021 and Cole last year as well. "We have three girls returning with a lot of varsity experience between them," Hennig said. "This will help balance out the newcomers to the varsity team. Our girls are motivated and work hard every day at practice. This group is relentless. They push each other to get better. Their effort and dedication to improving is evident." Cole is in her fourth year on the varsity and averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds last year. Burton averaged 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 steals, while Major was limited last year due to injury. Hennig said Grayslake Central and Wauconda are to be watched in the NLCC, "and hopefully we'll be in the mix with all the teams in the conference," she said.
Wauconda BulldogsCoach: Jaime Dennis
Last season's record: 12-1, 9-1 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Jessie Pakaski, sr., (5-10), Mackenzie Arden, sr., (5-8), Kaitlyn Jerard, sr., (F, 5-8), Kenna Wiszniewski, Jr, (PG, 5-7)
Top new players: Kayla McCarthy, Jr, (PG), Kelly McDonough, Jr, (G-F), Isabel Meyer, Jr, (G), Izzy Jacobs, Jr, (G), Kenzie Szmaiga, Jr, (F), Grace Parker, fresh., (G), Emma Wiszniewski, fresh., (C)
Worth noting: Pakaski and Arden are beginning their fourth years on the varsity. Pakaski, an all-NLCC selection last year, averaged a double-double of 10.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, while Arden is a two-time all-NLCC player and averaged 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 steals. Jerard begins her third year on the varsity, while Kenna Wiszniewski is beginning her second year on the big team. "We have a strong core group returning to build around," Dennis said. "It's a good, veteran group and we have some young talent to plug the holes left by last season's graduating seniors." Speed is on the Bulldogs' side. "This group is fast and athletic," Dennis said. "We will be able to take advantage of that speed on our press to create offensive opportunities." Dennis said keep an eye on McCarthy, a three-sport athlete, and freshman guard Parker, who can play any position. In terms of the NLCC, "Grayslake Central is always the team to beat," Dennis said. "We have had some epic battles over the last couple years. You never know about the rest. We have a lot of quality coaches in the conference that do a good job of coaching up what they have and that gives anyone a shot on any given night."