After coming up just a 3-pointer shy of their first trip to the IHSA state girls' basketball tournament, the Annawan Bravettes are reloading for another try at the brass ring this season.|
But as was the case during last year's 30-2 season, which included its first sectional championship since 1978, the reigning Lincoln Trail Conference champions will have to gird themselves to take their rivals' best shots and then some.
The Bravettes return a pair of junior starters in 6-foot post standout Celina VanHyfte (23 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks per game in 2011-12) and guard Megan Foes (6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds). However, the graduations of top contributors Jordan Jackson (10.5 points, 10 rebounds) and Kirsten Randall (9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3 steals) leave a considerable gulf in terms of experience.
"This is my third year as coach, and this will be the third primary offense that we're running," said Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz, who has won 52 of 60 games at the Bravettes' helm. "I'm the type of person that tries to adapt to what we have, so we're going to have a different look, a different way of attacking this season.
"By far, we have the least amount of big-game experience since I've been here, so we'll have to battle with that. We have to work hard to overcome that, but there's still a lot of talent here."
In the wake of last season's 56-53 loss to eventual Class 1A fourth-place state finisher LeRoy in the Bloomington Super-Sectional at Illinois Wesleyan University, Burkiewicz's club still has the hunger in their bellies to take the program to new heights this winter, having won four regional titles in the past five seasons.
"They've been hungry since Day 1," he said. "I told them on Day 1 that we've got questions, and we need the answers. They've got the fire in their eyes, and if this group can come together, they're going to be successful."
Also looking to be successful is Annawan's closest LTC rival, Wethersfield. The Lady Geese (26-7) lost three times to the Bravettes in '11-12 — once in regular-season LTC play, again in the LTC Tournament, and finally in the title game of the 1A Varna Midland Sectional.
Wethersfield did lose three of last year's starters, a group headed by graduated guard Kayla Bennett (13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds). But coach Becky Ince does have junior sharpshooter Sarah Hansen (22.5 points) back to rebuild around.
"We had an outstanding summer as far as commitment and hard work," said the former Lady Geese standout. "The kids have bought into our system, and coming off a regional title helps. Besides the offense that Sarah brings, there's a lot of toughness in our program; a lot of kids who will get on the floor, rebound and play aggressive defense.
"We also have four outstanding senior leaders. We lost some others who decided not to come out, but as a team, we'll try to overcome those losses."
Another team looking to overcome significant graduation losses is Ridgewood (15-17), which has to replace top scorers Ashley Kruger (14.5 points, 7 rebounds) and Annie Gelaude (13 points, 5 rebounds) from a 1A regional-finalist squad. However, three returning starters provide optimism in the Spartans' camp.
"We lost a lot of scoring with Annie and Ashley, but I feel like our seniors, juniors and sophomores got plenty of experience last year," said Ridgewood coach Bryan Brooks. "We do need to figure out who's going to take up the scoring load, but we are balanced on offense. At times, we can put five players on the floor who can score. We do need to create offense through our defense, getting tipped balls and easy lay-ups.
"Hopefully our experience from last year can carry over. I think if we show up to play, we're going to surprise some teams."
Also hoping to pull some surprises is Mercer County, whose five wins last year topped the victory total for the previous two seasons. The loss of star guard Bailey Krstic's 16 points and four boards per game will be tough to overcome, but the Golden Eagles otherwise return their entire starting lineup, led by junior guard Michaela Baker (9.5 points, 4 assists).
"We still want to push the ball up court, but we're going to be a more disciplined team," said Mercer County coach Steve Moseley. "Defensively, we need to get tougher."
Going from six wins in Coach Rick Cline's first year to 10 victories last winter, Galva also looks to keep trending upward behind 5-10 senior powerhouse Alex Strom (12 points, 10 rebounds). "I like this team and their attitude and effort; I largely believe we can become a good basketball team," said Cline.
Returning three starters from a 4-26 season, United also looks to improve after sharing the LTC regular-season title with Annawan two years ago. "There's still a lot of work to do," said Red Storm coach Fred Lucas.
LINCOLN TRAIL CONFERENCE GIRLS' BASKETBALL CAPSULES
Coach: Jason Burkiewicz (third year).
2011-12: 30-2 (10-0 LTC, 1st place); lost 56-53 to LeRoy in the Class 1A Bloomington Super-Sectional.
Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Lexi Sierens (5-9 G), Harman Kaur (5-5 G), Uriah Rico (5-6 G), Alyssa Thompson (5-9 F). Jrs.: Celina VanHyfte (6-0 C), Megan Foes (5-10 G), Paige Randall (5-10 F), Maddie Jackson (5-7 G).
Newcomer: Fr.: Morgan VanHyfte (5-10 G).
Galva Lady Cats
Coach: Rick Cline (third year).
2011-12: 10-19 (3-7 LTC); lost 47-30 to ROWVA in the first round of the Class 1A ROWVA Regional.
Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Devon Peterson (5-8 G), Donel Samuel (5-8 F), Alex Strom (5-10 F). Jr.: Nicole Withrow (5-3 G). Soph.: Rachel VanDeVelde (5-6 G), Curran O'Riley (5-9 F).
Newcomers: Jrs.: Dani Gibbs (5-4 G), Katelyn Klein (5-9 F), Savannah Ballard (5-5 G). Soph.: Paige Williams (5-8 G/F).
Mercer County Golden Eagles
Coach: Steve Moseley (second year).
2011-12: 5-21 (2-8 LTC); lost 74-24 to Rockridge in the first round of the Class 2A Sherrard Regional.
Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Kimi Nelson (5-8 F), Emily Lower (6-0 F), Savanah Frieden (5-4 G). Jrs.: Michaela Baker (5-5 G), Bridget Anderson (5-4 G), Kristin Heath (5-10 F). Soph.: Bailey Swanson (5-5 G).
Newcomer: Fr.: Katie Weeks (5-8 F).
Coach: Bryan Brooks (fourth year with co-op; fifth year overall).
2011-12: 15-17 (6-4 LTC); lost 66-32 to Wethersfield in the Class 1A ROWVA Regional finals.
Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Madison Miller (5-4 G), Taylor Brooks (5-6 G), Molly Jo Smith (5-9 F). Jrs.: Jasmine Jefko (6-1 F), Ashley Collins (5-7 G), Morgan Green (5-8 F). Soph.: Katie Miller (5-7 F).
Newcomers: Jrs.: Sabrina Medley (5-3 G), Hannah Garrett (6-2 F), Addison Barman (5-2 G), Caitie Allen (5-6 F), Mary Koby (5-11 F).
United Red Storm
Coach: Fred Lucas (second year).
2011-12: 4-26 (2-8 LTC); lost 57-44 to Bushnell-Prairie City-Avon in the first round of the Class 1A Lewistown Regional.
Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Cassandra Ellison (5-6 G), Sydney Toops (5-6 G), Meghan Perkins (5-8 F), Alyson Keeney (5-5 G). Jr.: Callie Brunswig (5-9 F).
Newcomers: Sr.: Andi Hendrix (5-3 G, transfer from Monmouth-Roseville). Jrs.: Hayley Osborn (5-3 G), Shelbie Link (5-5 F), Ollie Urbanski (5-10 C), Jenn Price (5-8 F).
Wethersfield Lady Geese
Coach: Becky Ince (second year).
2011-12: 26-7 (9-1 LTC); lost 58-44 to Annawan in the Class 1A Midland Sectional finals.
Returning letterwinners: Srs.: Sarah Hansen (5-3 G), Caitlin Miller (5-8 F), Aly Eastman (5-7 G), Kodi Hammer (5-6 F), Suzie Lathouris (5-8 F). Jr.: Kristen Parsons (5-5 G).
Newcomers: Sr.: Hannah Schwerbrock (5-9 F). Jrs.: Debbie Hager (5-9 F), Mackenzie Hoogerwerf (5-6 G).
Viola, IL Details
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