2023-24 Sauk Valley girls basketball preview capsules

Dixon’s Hallie Williamson works the lane against Rockford Lutheran Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.


Coach: Mike McCracken

Last season’s record: 25-5

Top Loss: Courtney Ortgiesen

Top returners: Elly Jones, sr., G; Tyrah Vaessen, jr. G; Addison Pertell, jr., G; Kiera Karlson, so., F; Maeve Larson, sr., F; Ellie McLaughlin, so., F; Emily Sachs, jr., C; Kenley Wilson, jr. C; Gloria Parker, jr., F

Worth noting: The rich get richer one more time at Amboy. After a dynamic 25-win season, nearly all the Clippers are back. Pertell runs the show and seniors Larson and Jones will be just a couple who will benefit. On paper, the Clippers are one of the top teams in the area this winter and a contender to advance in the postseason.

Ashton-Franklin Center

Coach: Chris Jahn

Last season’s record: 11-20

Top returners: Taylor Jahn, sr., g; Brianna Gonnerman, sr. g; Alexis Schwarz, sr., f; Cameryn Winterland, jr., g; Audree Dorn, jr., g;

Key newcomers: Reese Polk, so.; Jersey Sprague, jr.

Worth noting: If you are looking for a reason to be optimistic for the Raiders this season, look no further than Taylor Jahn. She scored nearly 12 a game last season and is very much one to watch as AFC looks to get back to the top of the NUIC. She will have plenty of help with Gonnerman and Schwarz returning and good spark off the bench with Polk and Sprague. “We return all five starters this season, so we are excited to get going,” Chris Jahn said.

Bureau Valley

Coach: Matt Wasilewski

Last season’s record: 15-16

Top returners: Kate Salisbury, sr. f; Kate Stoller, sr., g; Ryley Egan, sr. f; Lynzie Cady, sr., f; Lesleigh Maynard, jr, g; Taylor Neuhalfen, jr., g.

Key newcomers: Izabella Birkey, jr. f, Libby Endress, fr., g.

Worth noting: Experience will lead the Storm this winter and they have a lot of it. Seven letter winners are back and the bulk of the scoring that lead BV to a second-place finish in the TRC East last winter. Rebounding will be a key for the Storm with the losses of Alaina Wasilewski and Nicole Kerber from a year ago. But a challenge the team will embrace is defense. “They really pride themselves on playing defense,” Matt Wasilewski said. “They knew they have to use their quickness and will need to work hard to rebound this year.” Goals are high and a spot at the top of the conference are among the goals. Senior leadership will lead the way with Salisbury, Stoller, Egan and Cady leading the charge.


Coach: Luke Ravlin

Last season’s record: 26-6

Top returners: Jessie Pitman, sr., C; Katie Drew, sr., G; Nora Fordham, sr., F; Hallie Williamson, jr., C; Layni Lappin, sr., F.

Worth noting: The Duchesses have won 25 or more games each of the last five seasons (not including the shortened COVID year). This year that will be a challenge to keep the streak alive. Dixon must replace all five starters from last years 26-win team. But good youth and a couple of veterans should help in the meantime until the team begins to gel. Drew is a multi-sport star and one to watch for Dixon. Williamson figures to be a force up front and will be counted on for key post play.


Coach: Nicole Brinker

Last season’s record: 22-10

Top returners: Lily Mullen, Keni Burkholder, Jenica Stoner

Key newcomers: Olivia Klinefelter, Trixie Carroll, Sienna Peterson, Morgan McCullough

Worth noting: The Cougars are just three years removed from a state title, winning Class 1A in 2020. Last season was a remarkable run as they took the top spot in the NUIC with a perfect mark. But graduation hit hard and there are holes they will look to fill. Burkholder, Mullen and Stoner will lead the way. Nice depth will come in new faces Carroll, Peterson, McCullough and Klinefelter.


Coach: Chris Brown

Last season’s record: 11-16

Top returners: Reagan Sibley, sr., C; Avery Olinger, sr., F; Gabi Abdell, sr., F; Olivia Purvis, sr., G; Kennedy Buck, sr., G; Kaelyn Sibley, sr., G; Sydney Schwartz, sr., G.

Key newcomers: Emma Camper, Jenna Saad, Olivia Hope-Toppert

Worth noting: Seniors, lots and lots of seniors. Thats what the foundation is like for the Panthers in 2023-24. Seven seniors look to lead E-P into the state tournament. Abdell is a multi-sport athlete and Buck and Olinger will provide great leadership and depth up front.


Coach: Kyle Getz

Last season’s record: 17-17

Top returners: Jenna Greenfield ,sr., F; Keeli Larson, sr., F;

Key newcomers: Ericka Alexander, jr,. G; Hallee Vogt, so., G;

Worth noting: Getz’s first group will be very young but that doesn’t mean there isn’t good leadership at the top with Greenfield and Larsen. “These two will provide excellent leadership based on their work ethic,” Getz said. “Even though we are very young, these girls have worked very hard.” Alexander and Vogt are talented first-year players who will play big minutes.


Coach: Mike Menchaca

Last season’s record: Did not field a team in 2022-23

Top returners: Kylie Smither, jr., F; Hailey Smither, so., G; Belle Curley, so., G.

Key newcomers: Averi Bush, fr., G; Zoe Kunau, fr., G; Peighton Stretton, fr., G; Iris Williams, fr., G; Maddison Bolton, fr. G; Jaden Rathbun, fr., G.

Worth noting: The Steamers weren’t able to compete last season but have a full, albeit young roster this season. The elder Smither is battling injury but will be a key member of the Fulton roster this year. There’s plenty of excitement around newcomers Bush and Kunau. Fulton will be very young but not lacking the talent to compete in the rugged NUIC.


Coach: Kyle Knutti

Last season’s record: 1-20

Top returners: Olivia Sherman, sr. G; Lauren Meiners, so., G; Kylie Jensen, sr., G; Taylor Sarber, jr., G.

Key newcomers: Kendra Hutchison, jr., G

Worth noting: To get to where they ultimately want to get, the Missiles will experience an occasional bump in the road along the way. Just five wins over the last six seasons is the challenge they are looking to build from. Sherman is the top returner and Jensen will look to lead the younger levels to get this program righted. “The seniors have accepted that we are building,” Knutti said. “They are doing everything we ask of them and they are leading to get this turned in the right direction.


Coach: Kerry Grim

Last season’s record: 23-9

Top returners: Emery Brewer, sr., G; Kaylee Pruis, jr., G; MacKenzie Neas, jr., F; Madi Armitage, jr., F; Jordan Eads, so., G; Camryn Veltrop, jr., C; Sarah Weston, sr., C.

Key newcomers: Ashly Alba, fr., C; Ava Duncan, fr., F; Deja Walker, fr., F; Anaya Perales, so., F; Elaine Gallegos, so., G.

Worth noting: The Fillies closed the season in the regional final and a trip back to that spot and beyond is the goal in their final season in the Three Rivers West. Good seniors and a young blend of newcomers should land the Fillies near the top of the conference. Brewer and Weston are a nice 1-2 combo inside and out for Morrison. Eads is a shifty guard who is one to watch. Veltrop is expected to be a major force in the post for the Fillies. Its been 16 seasons since the Fillies last won a regional.

Newman Central Catholic

Coach: Herb Martin

Last season’s record: 7-23

Top returners: Jess Johns, sr.; Maddie Duhon, sr.

Key newcomers: Brooklyn Smith, fr.; Elaina Allan, fr.

Worth noting: If the Comets are to get back to the top of the TRC, they will need seniors Johns and Duhan to lead them. Newman last won 20 games in 2020 and last won a regional in 2008-09. That season it also captured the sectional as well. Smith and Allan are promising newcomers to watch.


Coach: Olyvia Donahue

Last season’s record: 14-18

Top returners: Mya Engelkes, sr., G; Teagan Champley sr., F; Alease McLain, jr., G; Madison Shaffer, jr., G; Ella Dannhorn, jr., G;, Sarah Eckardt, so., G.

Key newcomers: Aniyah Sarver, so.

Worth noting: A good core of players return for the Hawks for the 2023-24 season, including seniors Champley and Englekes and juniors Dannhorn, Shaffer and McLain. Sarver is a newcomer that bares watching. The Hawks last won a regional in 2014, which was their last winning season.


Coach: Jason Grobe

Last season’s record: 18-12

Top returners: Courtney Grobe, sr. g; Madison Glawe, sr., g; Sydnei Rahn, sr. f; Camrynn Jones, so., g; Karlea Frey, sr., f.

Key newcomers: Elsa Monaco, so., g; Carlee Grobe, so, Katelyn Rockwood, jr., f; Leah Tobin, so.; f; Karlea Frey, sr., f.

Worth noting: Last season was historical for the Marcos as they captured their first regional title since 2008. Now the goals are bigger and Polo is ready. No Polo team has ever won a sectional and with four starters back, it’s a realistic goal for Polo in the always rugged Northwest Upstate Illini. “We were able to get right into basketball in my second season,” Jason Grobe said. “The girls have big goals and are excited for the season. Polo has to replace its leading scorer in the 6-3 Lindee Poper. They look to do so with the Grobe girls and three other returning starters in Glawe, Rahn and Jones. Jones is the top returning scorer at better than 11 points per game.

Rock Falls

Coach: Daniel Herrera

Last season’s record: 18-14

Top returners: Claire Bickett, sr., F, Taylor Reyna, sr., C.

Key newcomers: Nicolette Udell, sr. C; Denali Stonitsch, sr., G

Worth noting: Hererra is excited for the challenge and still off the hot vibe of the Rockets volleyball team this past fall. “What an awesome experience that was,” Herrera said of the recent third-place finish at state. “We look forward to some of the girls from that team starting basketball.” The Rockets will have to replace six seniors from a winning season last year. Bickett and Reyna look to lead the way and Udell and Stonitsch will provide good bench depth. Four juniors and a sophomore will provide depth. This team looks to gain experience as the season goes just in time for the state tournament.


Coach: Taylor Jackson

Last season’s record: 3-27

Top returners: Madison Austin, jr., C; Olvia Melcher, sr., g; Delali Amankwa, sr., g;

Key newcomers: Taah Liberty, jr., G, Natalie Eddinger, jr., C; Joslynn James, so., G.

Worth noting: Sterling has the perfect blend of youth and experience and that should propel the Golden Warriors up the ladder in the always tough Western Big Six. “The girls had a great summer and we believe it has prepared us for the season, Jackson said. Post play will be key for Sterling and the Golden Warriors have an abundance of it in Eddinger and Austin. Good guard play wins in the conference and with the arrival of James to go with Melcher and Amankwa, it could be just the right recipe to get the Golden Warriors headed to a winning season. Sterling last won a regional in 2019.

West Carroll

Coach: Paul Waitkoss

Last season’s record: 6-23

Top returners: Karissa Andrews, sr., G; Mandy Myers, sr., F; McKenzie Ballard, sr., F; Emma Randecker, jr., F; Caitlyn Stingley, jr., F; Domynique Lego, jr., G; Aubrey Wurster, jr., F.

Key newcomers: Macie Carroll, so., G; Avery Mangler, fr.

Worth noting: A leading scorer that returns and a player that can do a little bit of everything is a good mix that should lead the Thunder to a strong season in 2023-24. Andrews is the top returning scorer and one to watch. Lego will run the show at the point. Then there is Wurster. Waitkoss calls her his “Swiss Army knife,” and she along with the other top returners will be looked to for a turnaround. Keep an eye on the newcomers. Carroll and Mangler will get minutes and that’s a good thing for WC.