Girls basketball: Scouting the East Suburban Catholic Conference, GCAC
Coach: Joe Kilbride (ninth year).
Last season's record: 30-5, 7-0 East Suburban Catholic Conference, first place.
Top returning players: Lenee Beaumont, sr. (G, 6-0); Samantha Trimberger, sr. (F, 6-0); Magdalena Sularski, jr., (G, 5-10); Emilia Sularski, jr. (G, 5-11); Sadie Sterbenz, sr. (G, 5-8); Kelly Getz, sr. (G, 5-7); Kendall Sheridan, sr. (G, 5-9); Allison Treacy, sr. (F, 5-10).
Top new players: Bridget Rifenburg, fr. (G, 5-11); Emma Briggs, fr. (G, 5-10); Lindsay Harzich, so. (G, 5-9).
Worth noting: The Redwings took fourth place in Class 4A last season and won the ESCC championship outright for the fifth consecutive year. Beaumont, an Indiana recruit, is the No. 1-ranked player for her position in Illinois by ESPN and No. 81 in the country. She averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists as a junior and was named second team All-State by AP. Trimberger is a tremendous rebounder and could have a breakout season as Benet's top interior player with center Morgan Demos graduated. The Sularski twins are receiving Division I and Division II interest and will look to keep defenses keying on Beaumont honest. A loaded schedule starts Nov. 15 with a game against LaLumiere (Ind.) and UConn commit Ashlynn Shade. The Redwings also have nonconference games against Hersey, Lyons and Montini. "Multiple offensive weapons should make Benet a difficult matchup," said Kilbride, 220-32 over his first eight seasons.
Coach: Ben Berg
Last season's record: 28-7, 4-3 East Suburban Catholic Conference, fourth place
Top returning players: Jordan Wood, sr. (G/F, 6-5); Mia Gillis, sr. (F/G, 6-1); Ashley Schlabowske, jr. (G, 5-7); Anna Hartman, jr. (G, 5-7); Kyla Smith, sr. (G, 5-6).
Top new players: Molli Ward, jr. (G/F, 6-0); Mia Cordova, so. (G, 5-3); Josie Hartman, fr. (G, 5-7); Keira Ackerson, jr. (F, 5-10); Caitie Brunk, sr. (G, 5-9).
Worth noting: The Corsairs return four starters from a team that won the Class 3A state championship, the first in school history -- although Anna Hartman will be out until late January with a torn ACL. Leading the way is Wood, a Michigan State recruit and three-time all-conference player who averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 blocks as a junior. Carmel's size up front is a team strength, but the Corsairs should also have more speed on the perimeter this season with depth. "These strengths will hopefully allow us to adapt to many different teams as well as many different situations," Berg said. UW-Whitewater commit Gillis averaged 7 points, 7 rebounds and 3.6 assists with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a junior. Schlabowske averaged 7.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2 assists and led Carmel in deflections. Smith, Carmel's sixth player last year, provides great energy and is also one of the team's best 3-point shooters.
"There are no nights off in our league. We hope to be competing for a conference title this year," Berg said. "For us to be successful this year, each player has to try and be the best version of themselves on a daily basis -- the best person, the best teammate and the best player they can possibly be and the results will take care of themselves."
Coach: Dan Murray (10th year)
Last season's record: 27-9, 2-6 East Suburban Catholic Conference, sixth place.
Top returning players: Madison Davis, jr. (G, 5-11); Khamille Jackson, sr. (F, 6-1)
Top new players: Mya Bradley, sr. (G, 5-7); Alainna Poisson, so. (G, 5-5); Taylor Bolton, so. (G, 5-8); Gracie Jensen, so. (F, 5-10); LaParis Poe, so. (F, 5-9); Ty Jackson, fr. (F, 5-10); Jordan Bailey, jr. (F, 5-10); Aramie Lyte, jr. (G, 5-4); Milan Hall, jr. (F, 5-10).
Worth noting: The Spartans are very young after graduating three key seniors from last year's team that won the program's first sectional championship since 2014. Davis is receiving Division I interest. "Goal is to improve day by day and be ready for the extremely tough yearly schedule we play," Murray said. "Talent is there, just a matter of time how long it takes us to gel and learn our responsibilities."
Coach: Renee Chimino (second season).
Last season's record: 23-10, 5-2 East Suburban Catholic Conference, third place.
Top returning players: Elise Ward, sr. (F, 5-11).
Top new players: Mary Porter, jr. (G, 5-6); Madison Vrdolyak, so. (F, 5-10); Olivia Cosme, fr., G.
Worth noting: Chimino, a 2008 Marist graduate, is in her second season after succeeding Mary Pat Connolly, who had been the RedHawks' only coach since the program's first season in 2002. Chimino said she has four seniors with varsity experience waiting to step up and bey leaders this year. Marist last year won the program's 14th regional title. Ward, a four-year varsity player in both basketball and volleyball, was honorable mention AP All-State as a junior.
"I am looking forward to closing out close games," Chimino said.
Coach: Eddie Stritzel (seventh season).
Last season's record: 33-3, 6-1 East Suburban Catholic Conference, second place.
Top returning players: Grace Carstensen, sr. (G, 5-9); Amalia Dray, jr. (G, 5-8); Dannie Scully, jr. (F, 6-0); Olivia Austin, jr. (F, 6-0); Mary Bridget Wilson, jr. (G, 5-6).
Top new players: Stella Sakalas, fr. (F, 5-11); Jane Manecke, fr. (F, 6-2); Lyla Shelton, fr. (G, 5-7).
Top new players: The Roadrunners return four starters from a team that took second place in Class 3A, was second in the ESCC regular season and won the conference tournament. Nazareth's size all over the court and balance make the Roadrunners a difficult team to score on, and defend. Carstensen, recently offered by Northern Illinois, averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds as a junior, and is an outstanding shooter. Also back is Dray, who averaged 11 points last season, Scully, who averaged 10 points, and Austin, who averaged 5 points. Wilson was Nazareth's sixth man last season. Added to that core are three freshman -- Sakalas, Manecke and Shelton -- that Stritzel said are receiving Division I interest and are among the top freshmen in the state.
"We feel we're one of the finer teams in Illinois that can play many different styles," Stritzel said. "Our depth will serve us well throughout the season. We should a really exciting team to watch and if we continue to play so unselfish as we have been accustomed to, we should contend once again."
Coach: Lenae Fergerson (first year).
Last season's record: 23-11, 3-4 GCAC Red, fourth place.
Top new players: Mia Hernandez, so.; Clare Kapsch, so.; Kiera Kapsch, so.
Worth noting: Fergerson, an honorable mention All-American at DePaul who played in the WNBA and for 12 years in Europe, takes over as head coach. And obviously has big shoes to fill. She has replaced Dave Power, who retired after 45 years and over 1,000 wins. On top of that challenge, Fenwick graduated all five starters and seven players total from last year's team that reached a Class 3A supersectional. Still, Fergerson remains optimistic.
"It's going good, the girls are buying into what we're trying to teach them," Fergerson said. "I'm pleased with their efforts so far. A lot of these players took a back seat to last year's seniors and they're ready to show what they can do. They're putting their best foot forward and that's all I can ask for. We're building a culture of playing together and playing hard; we want to compete and defend."
Coach: Shannon Spanos (third year).
Last season's record: 25-9, 5-0 GCAC Red, first place.
Top returning players: Shannon Blacher, sr. (G/F, 5-10); Victoria Matulevicius, jr. (G, 5-9); Alyssa Epps, jr. (F, 5-9); Shea Carver, so. (G, 5-7); Audrey Kinney, so. (F, 5-9); Maren Hoovel, sr. (G, 5-8)
Top new players: Ellie Helm, sr. (F, 5-10).
Worth noting: Four-year varsity player Blacher, a Northern Illinois commit, leads a group back from a Montini team that won the GCAC Red and reached a sectional final. Blacher averaged 13 points per game last season and was second on the team in assists. Also providing plenty of offense will be Matulevicius, who averaged 12.5 points in her second varsity season and has a scholarship offer from Southern Illinois. Epps, a third returner, averaged 5 points and 4 rebounds. Carver and Kinney played varsity minutes as sophomores and Spanos expects will get plenty of time this season as will St. Mary's soccer commit Hoovel. Helm, a transfer from Lake Park and St. Francis commit, will also get meaningful minutes. Junior Riley White is injured and out for the year. Sophomores Lily Spanos and Peyton Farrell will be looked to provide a spark off the bench.
A tough nonconference schedule includes games against Barrington, Fremd and Benet, with the Lady Broncos also heading out west to play a few games in Arizona in early January.
Coach: Emily Duckhorn (2nd season)
Last season's record: 21-12, 7-4 (4th)
Top returning players: Grace Stumm, sr. (G, 5-7); Brooke Pfeiffer, sr. (G, 5-7); Maggie Seraphin, sr. (C, 6-0); Ellie Baum, sr. (G, 5-7); Alex Kackert, sr. (G, 5-6,); Megan Molenhouse, jr. (G, 5-7).
Top new players: Tes Ketterman, jr. (F, 5-10); Erin Murray, jr. (F, 5-9).
Worth noting: Now in her second year leading the program, Duckhorn faces a new challenge as the Royals enter the GCAC White Division. The Royals have plenty of speed and bring back quality depth. "We are looking to keep the same high tempo by forcing turnovers and getting up the floor in transition," Duckhorn said. "This conference will be challenging and will hopefully be an important stepping stone to success in the state series."