With girls basketball season starting across the state Monday, here is a look at the season to come for teams across The Times coverage area.
Editor’s note: Season previews for Ottawa, Streator, Marquette and Seneca’s girls basketball teams will appear in separate articles.
Coach: Danielle Pollitt (5th season)
Last season’s record: 4-26 overall, 0-12 Heart of Illinois
Top returning players: Ella Derossett, G, jr.; Kora Edens, G, so.
Top new players: Grace Longmire, F, fr.; Aubry Edens, G/F, fr.; Emma Palaschak, G, fr.
Worth noting: The Falcons suffered through their sixth consecutive losing season last winter and have not won a postseason tournament since capturing the 2008 IHSA Class 1A state championship the first year of the co-op. While it’s hard to envision breaking those streaks as early as this winter with no seniors on the roster, Pollitt [formerly Edens] definitely sees a promising future thanks to the return of a player the caliber of Derossett – who received honorable mention All-HOIC and Times All-Area last season – and Kora Edens, a fellow guard. A lot of that will depend on the development of a talented freshman class learning the varsity game, especially post Longmire, wing Aubry Edens and guard Palaschak. “We’re working toward being a .500 team,” Pollitt said. “We have struggled the past years with low numbers and being a young team at the varsity level. We lost some close games last year that I believe we can turn around this year into some wins. We are hoping to surprise some teams.” Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland opens the season hosting its own half of the Falcon-Irish Thanksgiving Tournament.
Coach: Nathan Ehrhardt (1st season)
Last season’s record: 32-4 overall, 11-1 Heart of Illinois
Top returning players: Kaitlin White, G, sr.; Aliah Celis, F, sr.; Riley Burton, F, sr.; Macy Gochanour, G, so.
Top new players: Emily Tooley, G, jr.
Worth noting: The Knights won their second consecutive sectional title last season, and this winter face a lot of change with former head coach Mitch Neally and The Times 2023 Girls Basketball Player of the Year Ashlyn May, among others, having moved on. Still, there is plenty for Ehrhardt – formerly an assistant and head coach at rival El Paso-Gridley – to rebuild with, starting with White, a Times All-Area first-teamer and all-state honorable mention honoree after posting per-game averages of 14.5 points, 3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.7 steals. Ehrhardt plans to continue Fieldcrest’s emphasis on hard-nosed defense and up-tempo offense. “Kaitlin White was a strong player last year and will continue to be a strong leader on the floor this season,” Ehrhardt said. “At the same time, we have a well-balanced sophomore point guard [Gochanour] whom the girls have rallied around. The combination of these two guards on the floor and the overall depth of senior leadership on our team should be fun to watch.” The Knights open the season in the Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland pool of the Falcon-Irish Thanksgiving Tournament.
Coach: Jason Zaleski (2nd season)
Last season’s record: 10-20 overall, 6-3 Little Ten
Top returning players: Josie Rader, G, sr.; Haley McCoy, G, sr.; Abby Hohmann, P, so.; Brynn Pennington, F, sr.; Morgan Potter, F, sr.; Aubrey Chiavario, G, so.
Top new players: Kennedy Barshinger, G/F, fr.; Kiley Mason, G, so.; Pacey Wyant, G, so.
Worth noting: The games haven’t begun yet, but this has the feel of the season the Bobcats have been building toward, with golden basketball trophies and regional championship plaques the goals. It starts with Rader (Times All-Area second-team selection a year ago after averaging 13.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.9 steals) and McCoy (All-Area honorable mention with 11.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 3 steals per game) on a roster built for speed and interchangeability. The Bobcats’ offseason work ethic, too, has been a strength, leading to those aforementioned lofty goals. “If we want to compete for the conference title this year, we will need to be focused at every practice, work harder than our opponents and always put team goals ahead of individual goals,” Zaleski said. “Underclassmen will need to accept larger roles and play to their fullest potential. We look forward to the challenge that our conference provides and are excited to see how we stack up against some of the toughest teams in 1A basketball.” Somonauk/Leland opens the season hosting its own Tim Humes Breakout.
Coach: Jasmine Mitchell (1st season)
Last season’s record: 25-8 overall, 8-1 Little Ten
Top returning players: Kiara Wesseh, sr.; Brooklyn Hatteberg, sr.; Tess Carlson, jr.; Addison Ness, jr.; Danica Peshia, sr.; Stephanie Snyder, sr.
Top new players: Addison Long, jr.; Olivia Smith, jr.
Worth noting: Wesseh (11.5 points, 6 rebounds, 4.9 steals per game, All-Little Ten and Times All-Area third team) and Hatteberg (9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5 spg) return to lead a Norsemen team coming off last year’s 25-win, regional championship season, with Carlson and Ness also taking on leadership roles as juniors after strong sophomore campaigns. “As we retain much of our speed and athleticism from last season, we expect to be fast but stronger in the half-court,” Mitchell said. “We add height and size with our junior class and expect to succeed at any pace of the game. Some of the finer details of our game will be polished, tuning up our inside-outside as well as our ability to hit the outside shot. … The girls and I seek to push past that postseason blockade and make it farther than any Newark girls basketball team has been since 2008 (Newark’s last sectional championship, finishing runner-up in Class 1A).” The Norsemen, who have captured six consecutive regional titles and have won 14 regionals since 2001 under five different head coaches, are set to begin the season in the Tim Humes Breakout at Somonauk.
Coach: Jim Jobst (6th season)
Last season’s record: 27-9 overall, 9-0 Little Ten
Top returning players: Paisley Twait, G/F, sr.; Makayla McNally, F, sr.; Jenna Setchell, G, jr.; Gwyneth O’Connell, G, sr.; Dani Britt, G, sr.; RayElle Brennan, G, jr.; Maddie Glade, F, jr.; Hannah McNelis, G, jr.; Macy Mahler, F, jr.
Top new player: Christina Brockman, G, sr.
Worth noting: The defending Little Ten Conference champion Huskers are looking to win a third straight sectional title after placing fourth in Class 1A in 2022 and falling in supersectionals last winter. The scary thing for opponents, Jobst isn’t certain this year’s roster isn’t the best he’s had, top to bottom, in his six years at the helm. “We will continue to play an up-tempo game predicated on our defense,” he said. “This is the fastest, deepest and most experienced team we have had here in my six years. I think we will also have the most balanced scoring that we have had. The four seniors have provided great leadership so far this year. We hope to build off of our last two seasons. The girls have been working extremely hard, and they are very focused on doing everything they can to have a great season.” Twait (13.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.7 spg) was Times All-Area second team last season, with Setchell (12.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3 apg, 3.2 spg) a third-team pick and McNally (8.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2 spg) honorable mention. Serena tips off in the Seneca portion of the Falcon-Irish Thanksgiving Tournament.
Coach: Brandon Skolek (4th season)
Last season’s record: 13-18 overall, 5-4 Little Ten
Top returning players: Madyson Olson, G, sr.; Natalie Hall, F, jr.; Jessie Miller, G, so.
Top new players: Ryleigh Dixon, F, sr.; Bailey Miller, G, so.; Jacey Helgeson, G, fr.; Addison Scherer, F, fr.; Elizabeth Vazquez, G, fr.
Worth noting: The Red Raiders have a strong returning corps as well as some intriguing new additions, with Olson – who set a new program record by scoring 548 points (18.3 per game to go with 6.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 5.5 steals) – leading the way after earning Times All-Area second-team status in 2022-23. “Madyson took a huge step up as our team’s captain last year as a junior,” Skolek said. “This year as a senior, the role comes very naturally to her. It is great to have your best player also be the great leader she is.” Still, Skolek is hoping for a bit more offensive balance to carry Earlville to new heights, and believes that will start on the defensive end along with bringing the newcomers up to speed with the varsity game. Finishing above .500 and in the top half of the Little Ten standings are goals that appear to be in reach. The Red Raiders will open the season in Illinois Math & Science Academy’s Hoops Happening.
Coach: Steve Treptow (1st season)
Last season’s record: 13-21 overall, 5-9 Interstate 8
Top returning players: Hannah Treptow, G, jr.
Top new players: Peyton Dudzik, F, sr.; Johanna Freemon, F, sr.; Ivye Isenogle, F, sr.; Bailey Frieders, G, so.; Kayden Cornelis, G, so.; Mia Geltz, G, jr.
Worth noting: Treptow, with two decades of experience assisting in the Neuqua Valley girls hoops program, takes over as the Indians third coach over the past three seasons. He’s plenty familiar with the Sandwich program, though, which features his daughter, 5-10 point guard/walking matchup problem Hannah Treptow, who was All-Interstate 8 first team and Times All-Area third team after averaging 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and almost 2 blocks per game. Seniors stepping in – namely Dudzik, Freemon and Isenogle – will also be looked to for much-needed leadership, Coach Treptow said, as the Indians aim to play a fast, high-energy game on both ends of the court. “The expectations are to be competitive, play hard in every game and most importantly have fun while doing it,” he said. The Indians are playing their first season as members of the Kishwaukee River Conference and are set to tip off the season in Somonauk’s Tim Humes Breakout against the host Bobcats on Monday.