Top teams: Elmhurst, Wheaton.
Top players:Benedictine: Michelle Gaede, G, jr.; Megan Novak, G, so..; Katie Hunzinger, F, so.; Kam Haifleigh, F, jr.; College of DuPage: Jazmin Little, G, so.; Kalie DiNuno, G, fr.; Donna Koerber, F, fr.; Melissa Niggins, C, fr.; Sarah Lang, fr. G; Elmhurst: Fiona McMahon, F, so.; Kim Schwerdtmann, G, sr.; Karen Senette, G, jr.; Devin Vaughn, G, jr.; Tess Godhardt, G/F, so. North Central: Jenny Swanson, G, sr.; Sophie Newsom sr. G/F; Callie Rezin, G, so.; Michelle Todd, F, jr.; Emily Murphy, Sr., F; Wheaton: Brooke Olson, G, sr.; Maris Hovee, F, jr.; Lauren Graham, F, jr..; Breanna Bohlen, G, sr. Hannah Considine, C, fr.
Outlook: On paper Elmhurst has everything it needs to compete for the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title. But the Bluejays had the talent last year and then struggled down the stretch. The guard positions are well-fortified with Kim Schwerdtmann back from injury, returning starter Vaughn and outstanding transfer Senette leading the way. Forwards McMahon and Godhardt are both building on outstanding freshman seasons, so the Bluejays are strong inside. "We're capable of being a major player in the CCIW race this year," said coach Tethnie Carrillo. "We're ready to put last season in the rearview mirror."
Three regulars graduated from last year's 18-8 Wheaton Thunder team, but four-year starter and all-conference guard Olson leads a strong group of veterans, including forwards Hovee and Graham who were big contributors last season. But there will also be an impressive class of newcomers in the playing mix. "Some of our younger players are talented, but on defense there's a little bit of an unknown with inexperienced players," said coach Kent Madsen. While Olson will push the ball up court and set the tone, there's a lot of talent around her. Look for the Thunder to compete for the CCIW title.
North Central is hoping to rebound from a 7-18 season, and the Cardinals are doing it with an extreme run-and-gun offense. Coach Michelle Roof will be using her entire 16-person squad in short shifts to keep the heat up in a pressing/trapping defense. And they'll be running and shooting all night on offense in order to wear opponents down. "We're looking good in practice," Roof said. "We have good depth and speed and we'll be attacking the rim. It will be exciting. We want to lead the country in scoring."
Benedictine had a 6-11 record in the Northern Athletics Conference last year, but coach Kristen Gillespie was encouraged that the Eagles finished with a 5-4 run. Freshmen such as Novak and Hunzinger had big rookie years and were named to the all-conference freshman team. Bigger things are expected this year. The team's depth problems of last year could be remedied by a strong recruiting class. The Eagles have a nice mix of veterans and newcomers, but this is still a young team. "We're a work-in-progress," said coach Kristen Gillespie. "The kids are working really hard and we've made progress, but we're not where we need to be."
College of DuPage is a young team but there's plenty for coach Chris Cotton to work with. Koerber, Little and DiNuno all come in with big-time reps, while former Naperville Central stars Niggins and Lang bring a high basketball IQ and a winning attitude. The Chaps have good depth, solid scorers and they can push the ball up court. What they don't have is experience. Once the new players get adjusted to the quickness of the college game, this could be a really good team. "We're not that strong physically, but we're working on that," Cotton said. "And of course, we need experience."