Lake County notes: Buchert's return gives Libertyville big lift

In the face of adversity, the Libertyville boys basketball has done just fine.

Playing a good chunk of the early season slate without injured Will Buchert, the Wildcats were 6-3 overall and 2-0 in North Suburban Conference play to start the week.

The Wildcats started NSC play with a 61-45 win over Warren and a 48-41 victory over Lake Forest. Sandwiched between those wins was a 52-41 victory over Carmel in nonconference play.

"Will played his first full game against Lake Forest since the first game of the season due to injury," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "Everyone is going through injuries and sickness this time of the year, but it was nice to get Will back in the mix."

In his absence, Zyrkowski noted the trio of Aidyn Boone, Jack Huber and Cole Bonder stepped it up. Boone is averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 1 blocked shot per game, while Huber is at 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per contest. Bonder averages 6 points and 5 rebounds.

"Jack has done an incredible job handling the opposing team's pressure and making plays on the defensive end," Zyrkowski said. "His ability to score in a wide variety of ways has been tough to guard. Aidyn has proven that he can score inside and out."

In a smaller sample size, Buchert is at 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists through 4 games.

"One of the most interesting things about this team is the balanced attack we have had lately," Zyrkowski explained. "We have had four or five guys in double figures each game."

Lakes update:

The Eagles have won five of their last six contests (5-4 overall, 1-0 Northern Lake County) with recent wins against Wilmot (Wisconsin) Union (51-43) and Antioch (NLCC opener, 44-41 win in overtime).

Brock Marino leads the Eagles in scoring at 11.8 points per game and rebounds at 7 per game. Jimmy Kania and Cade Primack also have been key of late.

"Brock and Jimmy have been consistent scorers for us," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "Cade has done a great job running the point for us and also providing great 1-on-1 defense for us."

Overall, Snyder likes the team aspect he's seen thus far.

"It's been a team effort," he said. "No one is really jumping off the page, just all the guys working together. The group has been defending well. It has kept us in games and given us chances to win when our shots may not be falling."

Grayslake Central update:

The Rams opened Northern Lake County Conference play with a 37-36 win over town rival Grayslake North to pump their record up to 5-1 overall. Central also scored a 57-56 nonconference win over Vernon Hills.

On the stat sheet, Dennis Estepp is leading the team in scoring (13 ppg) and assists (3 apg), while Sam Cooper was averaging 10 points to start the week. Jake Gibson also has been key, averaging 9 points to go with team bests in rebounds (7 rpg) and blocks (2 bpg).

"Jake, Dennis and Sam have been performing like all-area- and all-conference-level players," Central coach Brian Centella said. "They have been consistently good not just scoring the basketball, but in all aspects of the game."

Centella noted picking up a conference-opening win on the road and at Grayslake North was impressive for his group.

"We were able to hold on and get a great road win," he said. "That has been a tough place for us to play over these last several years."

Stevenson update:

A 53-45 win over Warren elevated the Patriots to 2-0 in North Suburban play and a strong 6-1 overall.

"The team is unselfish and improving in a lot of phases," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "We need to get better."

Christian Uremovich leads the Patriots in scoring and rebounding, while Aidan Bardic is tops in assists.

Ambrose also has been pleased with the Patriots' bench production.

"Our bench is very helpful for us," he said.

Grayslake North update:

The Knights split a pair of recent games with Highland Park (won 56-39) and Grayslake Central (lost 37-36). North stood at 3-6 overall and 0-1 in Northern Lake County action to start the week.

Dominic Jankowski is leading North in scoring at 20 points per game, while averaging 5 rebounds. Jayden Hunt is shooting 40% from 3.

"We ae a team that is getting better with each game," Knights coach Josh Feinzimer said. "We held two very good teams below 40 points (Highland Park and Central), and if we continue to defend like that, we'll be in good shape."

Feinzimer mentioned the importance of Hunt's continued strong play. "Jayden has been a bright spot for us as a secondary scorer to help take some of the pressure off Jacob Donohue and Dom."

Hunt had a career-high 16 points against Highland Park and 8 points against Central.

"Jayden, along with some of our other underclassmen, are emerging and I feel like the future is bright, both for the remainder of this year and down the road," Feinzimer said. "I love the way our bench engages in the games and supports the guys on the floor."

Donohue had 5 steals, 3 deflections and took a charge against Central. "Jacob played one of his best defensive games of his career against Central," Feinzimer said.

Jankowski had 18 points against Central. "Dom continues to put up big scoring numbers even with other teams keying on him," Feinzimer pointed out.

Warren update:

The Blue Devils were 5-3 overall and 0-2 in the North Suburban after the 53-45 loss to Stevenson over the weekend.

Alex Daniels leads Warren in scoring at 11.5 points, while also bringing in 4.3 rebounds. Jack Wolf is at 10.1 points and 4.5 rebounds.

"We are playing very good first halves, but fading in the second half, especially in the third quarter," Warren coach Zack Ryan explained. "We are learning what it takes to beat really good teams. We need to put together full games."

Carmel update:

Corsairs coach Dmitry Pirshin noted his team hit a recent rough patch with losses to Nazareth Academy (50-46), Libertyville (52-41) and Niles Notre Dame (51-43). Carmel was 3-6 to start the week.

"We have great fourth quarters, but we have to do better earlier," he said.

Pirshin added Carmel is working to cut down its foul totals. Turnovers also hurt the team in the Nazareth Academy game (23 turnovers, 16 in the first half).

"We are not disciplined yet when it comes to execution on offense and defense," he explained. "The boys play hard and do not give up, not matter what the situation is. We have been coming back every game. Shooting at this moment is a little inconsistent."

Pirshin said Jacob Chajet and Mark Zitella have been impacting the game in a positive way, while Kalob Jackson has been "pretty consistent when it comes to scoring and running the offense," he noted.

Grant update:

The Bulldogs opened Northern Lake County action with a 64-48 win over North Chicago. Grant also lost a 53-44 nonconference game to McHenry and was 3-5 to start the week.

Ayden Sheppard, Pryde Mendoza and Braylon Gray all are averaging 11 points per game, while Mendoza leads the team in rebounding at 6 per game and is shooting a team-best 56% from the floor from the guard position. "Pryde has a nonstop motor and loves to compete," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said.

Sheppard had 16 points and 6 rebounds to help lead Grant to the win against North Chicago.

Coach Wayne Bosworth liked how Jake Swanson came off the bench against North Chicago and pulled in 9 rebounds, as well James Otis coming off the bench and hauling in 5 offensive boards.

Bosworth said improvements have been evident of late with his group.

"We are improving," he said. "Our young group is quickly learning what it takes to compete at this level. As this corner begins to be turned more, I really like our group of guys and what they can do."

Vernon Hills update:

The Cougars were 42-19 winners over Highland Park recently. That put them at 4-4 overall and 1-1 in Central Suburban North action.

Coach Matt McCarty pointed out a couple "Dylan" key stats in the Highland Park win. Senior guard Dylan Sherwin finished with 4 assists. "He did a nice job getting into the heart of the Highland Park zone and finding open shooters," McCarty said.

Junior guard Dylan Chung finished with 5 rebounds in the game. "At 5-7, he has a nose for the ball and is always hustling around the floor and trying to nab defensive rebounds," McCarty added. "Dylan continues to get better and has done a solid job as our point guard."

Also stepping to the forefront has been junior Bryce Drexler, McCarty noted. "Bryce has given us a nice lift off the bench on both ends of the floor," he said. "He hit two 3s against Highland Park. It is nice to count on some scoring off the bench with so much focus on Milan (Raval)."

McCarty said his team opened some eyes after bouncing back from a tough road loss to Grayslake Central. "We led most of that game, but gave up a 4-point play late to fall 1 point short," he explained. "I really liked how we bounced back in practice. I think there were good lessons to be learned in that game and the boys responded with several good days of practice leading up to the HP game."

Antioch update:

The Sequoits split of pair of recent games with Johnsburg (39-37 win) and Lakes (44-41 loss). Antioch sat at 3-6 overall and 0-1 in Northern Lake County action to start the week.

Carter Webb leads Antioch in scoring at 9 points per game and also is tops in steals (1.3), 3-pointers made (19) and free-throw% (83.3). Nate Young leads the way on the glass (5.6 rebounds) and Emmy Zamudio is tops in assists (2.3).

Coach Sean Connor pointed out Antioch is now 3-0 on the road after not winning a road game last season until February.

"Our juniors have really stepped up the last two weeks and defined their roles," Connor said.

One of those juniors, Colby Priller, is averaging 8.5 points per game off the bench. "Colby has been a threat inside and outside for us, scoring in the paint and from three, and playing the center position when needed the past three games," Connor noted.

During that recent three-game stretch, senior Nate Young led Antioch in scoring at 10 points per game, "and has become a consistent defender on the perimeter, while also taking on ballhandling duties as a secondary guard," Connor noted.

Antioch has gone through two busy sieges on the schedule, playing five games in a nine-day stretch and then following up with five more games in a 12-day stretch.

"We are looking forward to getting back into a routine of playing two games per week," Connor said.

Lake Zurich update:

The Bears split their first two North Suburban games, losing to Stevenson (65-58) and defeating Zion-Benton (69-40). Lake Zurich was 5-2 to start the week.

Senior Brendan Powers leads the way, averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds, while sophomore Anton Strelnikov averages 14 points and 5 rebonds. Junior Nick Popovic is at 12 points and 5 assists.

"Brendan, Anton and Nick have been so consistent and bring it night in and night out," Lake Zurich coach Terry Coughlin said. "Those (statistical) averages are honestly just about what we have been getting game after game from them."

Coughlin said defensive intensity has been another major bright spot thus far.

"We have been doing a great job of pressuring the opponent for 32 minutes and creating a lot of deflections and turnovers, which has led to transition opportunities for us," he said. "We are a very young and inexperienced team, and I'm starting to see signs of the boys becoming more and more comfortable with the speed and physicality of varsity-level basketball."

Wauconda update:

The Bulldogs were 4-3 overall and 1-0 in Northern Lake County play after a 73-51 win over Round Lake to open loop action. Wauconda also completed a sweep of Woodstock with a 55-43 win over Woodstock and a 74-63 win over counterpart Woodstock North.

Through seven games, junior Braden Carlson is leading the team in scoring at a robust 26.4 points per game, while averaging 6.1 rebounds and 2.7 steals. He's also shooting 60% from 2-point range. Junior Cayden Mudd is averaging 11.4 points and 2.7 rebounds, while junior Tyler Tylka is averaging 5.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.6 assists and 1 block.

"We have seen our team start to trust each other down the stretch in tight games," Wauconda coach Ty Weidner said. "We are a fairly young team as far as varsity game experience goes."

Weidner pointed out the only players with significant minutes from last year are Carlsen, a starter from last year, and Mudd and Christian Muniz, who saw rotational minutes.

"Our leadership on the floor and in the huddle has been tremendous as of late. The guys are starting to understand what it takes to win games and how to finish not only a game, but more importantly, each possession on defense," he explained. "If we want to win, we need to rebound consistently on both ends of the floor and trust our teammates will be where they need to be, whether that is on defense in the right gap or on offense being in the right spot to space the floor. I feel the game has slowed down drastically for our team from Game 1 against an extremely tough, well-coached Geneva team to today."

Weidner said freshman Jackson Rudolph "has really been establishing himself as a player for us off the bench," he noted. "He is a physical kid who understands the importance of rebounding. I think he is also getting more comfortable out there because he is finally getting healthy after some nagging football injuries slowed him early in the season."

Junior Colton McLennan, Weidner added, also is starting to show his ability and versatility defensively off the bench.

"He can defend both in the post and on the perimeter, which is vital for our group to have a player who can do both, our rebounding instantly becomes better when he is defending the wing for us," Weidner said. "If we can continue to develop his offensive game, we will have some tough decisions to make down the road."

Overall, Weidner feels the team is starting to hit its stride offensively. "We are snapping the ball on the perimeter and playing inside-out, not settling for 3s," he said. "We just need more consistent effort and focus on the defensive end, with the consistent effort/focus comes better defensive rotations, ball pressure and gap/help-side responsibilities."

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