Girls basketball is back and, as always, the northern suburbs are loaded with individual and team talent.
In no particular order, below are 10 teams to watch in the 2021-22 season.
With as much height and post skill as near any team in the state of Illinois, the Corsairs stand poised to make a run the program hasn’t seen the likes of in years.
Michigan State commit Jordan Wood, a junior, has nearly every intangible a college coach would want. She’s joined by fellow D-I signee Grace Sullivan, a senior, who will head to Bucknell next year.
“Jordan is a better three-point shooter,” Carmel Catholic coach Ben Berg said. “Her perimeter game has improved that much more. She’s always seen the floor real well. She’s always had great vision for someone who is 6-5. But I just think her offensive game, her mind has slowed down. She reads things so much better now.”
The Corsairs kicked off their season with a blistering 64-13 win over Grayslake North at the Mundelein Tournament on Monday. Sullivan put her skills on display with eight first-quarter points, controlling the boards and displaying her basketball IQ.
In the game, Carmel grabbed defensive rebounds and pushed the ball in the open court — something they’ll look to do all season. Forward Mia Gillis, a 6-1 junior, gobbled up rebounds and steals, and distributed assists. She looked capable of doing anything that was needed, while the Corsairs look quick, big and comfortable deep into the bench. Both Gillis and Wood are three-year starters, while Sullivan has started four years.
And while height is one thing, Sullivan says her team may catch opponents off guard with their physicality.
‘We have such a tall roster people just look at that as height and think ‘They can reach above everyone’s head,’ but I feel like if we’re physical down low, using our hips using our feet more, I feel like that will really set us apart from a lot of the competition,” Sullivan said.
Berg says his team’s younger, less-experienced guards are energetic and bring strong defense to the table for the team.
“We’ve definitely been working on keeping it quick in practice, running it up the floor, getting the passes up the floor,” Sullivan said. “We’ve also been focusing on getting our guards to shoot a little bit more, bringing up their confidence and getting some threes up and getting looks into the post as well.”
While Berg did not name a specific end goal, Sullivan said she has her eyes first on a regional title, then on state. The Corsairs have never reached the state final four. She said she feels relieved to be playing worry-free basketball with her college recruitment completed.
“We’re really looking forward to going to state this year,” Sullivan said. “We really think we have a really good chance. This is probably the best chance we’ve had in a long time to make it down to Redbird Arena. I really think we can if our guards improve, if our posts improve, everyone improves as a group, I feel like we can definitely make it as a group.”
Despite graduating major talent, seniors Jessie Pakaski and Mackenzie Arden are back for a group that finished with one loss and was runner-up in the Northern Lake County Conference.
Tahj Bloom, a 6-3 wing, is without a doubt one of the best sophomores in the state and returns to lead the way for the Rams who went undefeated in Northern Lake County Conference play last year. Per the Chicago Tribune, she averaged 13.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.4 steals per game as a freshman.
The consensus top team in 4A a season ago, Michigan commit Katy Eidle will lead a still strong Huskies bunch that will look to adapt to life post Mary McGrath and Mary Kate Fahey.
Sophie Swanson was the Mid-Suburban West Player of the Year as a sophomore a season ago for the West division co-champion Barrington Fillies, who never seem to run out of talent in girls athletics.
Penn signee Simone Sawyer (senior) will be one of the area’s top players. The Patriots stormed past traditional CPS stronghold Taft 56-15 in the season opener Monday. Ava Bardic helps make the Pats formidable.
Emily Fisher — a junior committed to Maryland — makes Libertyville much-watch basketball. The Wildcats finished 16-2 overall last season, capping the season with a redemption-earning win over Stevenson. Can Libertyville best that?
Gone are the Gardiner twins, but back is Cornell signee Emily Pape for the defending CSL South champion Hawks. Maine South will have plenty of athleticism on its roster, but it will be looking for quick development from younger players.
South Dakota signee Joy Bergstrom leads back the talented team from Arlington Heights who will push good teams to their limits. Can St. Viator change the tide and win games the tight games they lost by single-digits last year (Benet, Carmel, Stevenson, Joliet Catholic)? The good wins seem inevitable, but how many?
Wouldn’t be right to count out Fremd, right? The 2019-20 state champions stumbled at end of the season to Barrington in what felt like a changing of-the-guard-type game. But the Vikings are still technically the defending state champions and made a trip to the state final four three of the last four times its been held. Coach Dave Yates knows how to win, and the Vikings plastered Oswego East 69-28 to start the season on Monday.
The Ramblers lost five senior starters from a GCAC-winning, 19-2 team. Who picks up the slack and makes an impact this season? After Monday, the Ramblers already had a 38-34 win over Warren under their belt.