Girls Basketball

2021-22 girls basketball season preview: Scouting the Illinois Central Eight

Coal City

Coach: Brad Schmitt (19th season)

Last season’s record: 4-6 overall, 4-5 IC8

Top returning players: Molly Stiles, sr. (F, 5-8); Audrey Cooper, jr. (G, 5-6); Magen Planeta, sr. (G, 5-5); Mia Ferrias, so. (G, 5-9); Kerigan Copes, jr. (G, 5-6); Abby Gagliardo, so. (F, 5-8); Mackenzie Henline, so. (G, 5-6); Makayla Henline, so. (G, 5-6)

Worth noting: Coal City is without an obvious big-time scorer as it starts the season, but Schmitt believes he has multiple players who will be able to assume a role this season and excel in that spot. ... “We have some young, athletic girls who will need our juniors and seniors to bring them along,” he said. “I think we will score by committee as we don’t have a true 15 points per game scorer at this time, but we do have numerous girls who are capable of scoring each night in various ways.” ... Junior point guard Cooper and seniors Stiles and Planeta will need to step into leadership roles this season for the young Coalers.

Herscher

Coach: Philip Peacock (fourth season)

Last season’s record: 2-11 overall, 1-7 IC8

Top returning players: Macey Moore, jr. (G); Mia Ruder, sr. (G); Lacy Grigas, sr. (G/F); Elise Kukuck, jr. (G); Hailey King, jr. (G)

Top new players: Ella Gessner, jr. (G); Gwenyth Jackubowski, jr. (G); Faith Ward, sr. (F)

Worth noting: The Tigers lacked experience last season and never found their offensive rhythm on the way to just one conference win in the spring and losing Mia Ruder to a season-ending injury played a large role in not finding it. ... “Coming off of such a disappointing spring, the girls have responded well and really have been working hard in preparation for this year,” Peacock said. “We are really looking forward to seeing what this season brings.”

Lisle

Coach: Nick Balaban (ninth season)

Last season’s record: 7-0 overall, 7-0 IC8

Top returning players: Kylie Russell, sr. (C, 6-1); Ainslie Klein, sr. (G, 5-6); Meg deBuhr, sr. (F, 5-10); Grace Rossin, sr. (F, 5-9); Sophie Brown, sr. (G, 5-9)

Top new players: Crystal McHugh, so. (G, 5-7); McKenna Kane, so. (G, 5-1); Kiley Ebert, so. (F, 5-7); Kaitlyn Ebert, so. (F, 5-7)

Worth noting: The Lions fared excellently in the odd spring season with wins in all seven of their games. They will look to see how they fare against nonconference foes to start the season before attempting to carry on last season’s dominance in conference play. ... Russell will be an anchor point in the paint for Lisle and will hope to repeat as leading rebounder and shot-blocker, while Klein will work to shoulder much of the scoring. ... “As it has been each year, our goal is to compete and contend in the upper tier of the conference,” Balaban said. “It will come down to our ability to defend and rebound day-in and day-out. If those two facets of our game are consistent, it will allow us the opportunity to compete with anybody.”

Manteno

Coach: Bethany Stritar (fifth season)

Last season’s record: 2-7 overall, 2-7 IC8

Top returning players: Chloee Boros, sr. (G, 5-7); Ashtyn Wischnowski, sr. (G, 5-6); Lyndsey Greenquist, sr. (PG, 5-7); Mia Robbins, sr. (G/F, 5-6); Kylie Saathoff, jr. (F, 5-9); Katherine Gaffney, jr. (F, 5-7); Drew Hosselton, jr. (F, 5-10); Sydney Sosnowski, so. (G, 5-3)

Top new players: Grace Sundeen, so. (G, 5-8); Sara Schmidt, so. (F, 5-6)

Worth noting: Manteno picked up two conference victories last season after failing to earn a single one in 2019-20. Stritar says most of the ICE has graduated significant talent from last season, while Manteno returns most of its previous roster in addition to a deep bench. ... “I’m very excited about our upcoming season,” she said. “We had a good summer offseason and with 10 returning varsity players, we have high expectations for ourselves this year.” ... The Panthers will look to continue the upward trend they have seen during Stritar’s five seasons at the program’s helm. The program is up to 28 players over all three levels — a significant improvement over the 13 it contained five years ago.

Peotone

Coach: Steve Strough (14th season)

Last season’s record: 10-2 overall, 8-1 IC8

Top returning players: Madi Schroeder, so. (G, 5-10); Mady Kibelkis, jr. (G, 5-8); Jenna Hunter, jr. (F, 5-10); Danielle Piper, sr. (G, 5-5); Marissa Velasco, jr. (F, 5-11)

Top new players: Addie Graffeo, so. (G, 5-5); Ashley Renwick, so. (F, 5-7)

Worth Noting: Peotone’s projected starting five is made up entirely of players with previous varsity experience and will look to improve upon a successful campaign during the spring’s shortened season. ... “Bench development and building depth will be key for the Blue Devils as they move through the season,” Strough said. “We have high expectations this season and we are equipped with a team that has demonstrated a lot of versatility in practice. The girls really enjoy playing with one another.”

Reed-Custer

Coach: Shelby Zwolinski (second season)

Last season’s record: 6-5 overall, 6-5 IC8

Top returning players: Sylvia Crater, sr. (G, 5-5); Emily Lochner, sr. (G, 5-6); Adrionna Williams, sr. (F, 5-7); Brooklyn Harding, jr. (PG, 5-4)

Top new players: Haley Buchanan, sr. (F, 5-5); Alice Jonasson, sr. (G, 5-6); Addison Harms, jr. (G, 5-1); Caelan Cole, jr. (G, 5-4); Samantha Sprimont, jr. (F, 5-5); Laci Newbrough, jr. (F, 5-9); Mya Beard, so. (G, 5-5); Kaylee Tribble, so. (F, 5-10); Madison Keenan, so. (F, 6-0)

Worth noting: Reed-Custer finished last season in the middle of the conference pack and graduated eight seniors who held key roles on the team, but has what Zwolinski calls a great group of returning seniors and juniors that is ready to battle. ... Harding will step into a key role for the Comets and should thrive as a strong perimeter shooter, while Williams, Newbrough and Sprimont will earn their stripes in the paint. ... “This season we are ready to leave it all one the court,” Zwolinski said. “No matter the outcome.”

Streator

Coach: Beau Albert (fourth season)

Last season’s record: 5-4 overall, 5-3 IC8

Top returning players: Jeniece White, sr. (G), Anna Hoffmeyer, sr. (G)

Worth noting: The Bulldogs finished play in the spring with their first winning record in decades and will hope to carry that success forward into this season despite the loss off their all-time leading scorer, Natali Haynes, to graduation. ... White and Hoffmeyer are expected to take center stage after showing moments of brilliance in supporting roles in past seasons. ... “It’s going to be a culture change, for sure,” Albert said. “We’re not going to sit back in a 2-3 zone and let the 6-2 girl get all the rebounds. We’re going to have to get out, press and rotate a lot of girls in.”

Wilmington

Coach: Eric Dillon (fifth season)

Last season’s record: 2-8 overall, 2-8 IC8

Top returning players: Anna Liaromatis, sr. (G, 5-7); Breanna Horton, jr. (G, 5-6); Kaitlynn O’Donnell, jr. (G, 5-6); Alexa Clark, jr. (G, 5-5)

Top new players: Lexi Liaromatis, so. (G, 5-6)

Worth noting: The Wildcats are looking to show progress following the spring’s shortened season. Wilmington fielded a young squad and fatigue was a factor due to most of the team playing up a level as freshmen and sophomores. ... Despite having much of its roster playing both varsity and JV games, the ‘Cats were able to end the spring season on a high note with a rivalry win over Reed-Custer. ... “We are looking to show the conference that Wilmington should be a respected opponent and not one to be taken lightly,” Dillon said. “With a guard-heavy roster, we’ll be looking to play fast and get up and down the floor for an exciting style of play.”