By Kaleb Carter
Hersey junior Katy Eidle and Libertyville junior Emily Fisher were the smoothest operators on the court in a Thursday matchup of two of the top teams in the northern suburbs. Beyond the two starts, both programs are seeking to define roles for their supporting players.
Hersey came into the season with high expectations. But after a 57-46 win in the Buffalo Grove Bison Classic, played at Hersey, the Huskies look like potentially one of the top teams in the state. It’s almost hard to believe after Hersey lost perhaps the strongest senior class in program history. Last season’s Huskies, led by Eidle and now-graduated Mary Kate Fahey and Mary McGrath, finished a perfect 16-0.
With no postseason to decide a state title, perhaps only Kenwood has as solid of a claim as Hersey for the state’s top team last season.
“We’re as good as we were last year,” Eidle, a Michigan commit, said. “We’re getting better. We know what we’ve got to work on. We’ve just got to keep improving. We’ll be great. Better than last year, that’s our goal.”
After scoring a team-high 22 points and cutting through the Libertyville defense, Eidle reflected on some of the things that makes this group strong.
“I didn’t know how we were going to play together our first game, how we were going to gel, but it was phenomenal,” Eidle said. “We all knew how fast we were and how we were going to be able to play with all guards, and we were able to defined.”
Senior Val Allen, a 5-11 post player who will be relied upon around the basket, scored 12 points in the opener. She said the group is highly supportive of one another and is quickly adapting to their roles.
“Rebounding is key for me, fulfilling last year’s issues, because we were a big rebounding team so just getting down low, rebounding the best that I can to kick it out to my guards,” Allen said.
Junior Natalie Alesia, one of nine juniors on the varsity roster, looked comfortable against Libertyville, netting all eight of her points in the first half. Meghan Mrowicki — a Division-I soccer recruit who sat out last season to focus on her primary sport — will often be tasked with defending other teams’ best scorers.
“She (Mrowicki) hasn’t virtually played in two years,” Hersey coach Mary Fendley said. “She’s not just a great athlete. If you can come out like that on a varsity court and guard one of the best players in the state, I’m amazed by her ability. She just couldn’t make the commitment last year because of her commitment to soccer, and now that she’s back we’re really happy.”
Fendley was also excited by the complementary nature of her varsity-inexperienced players coming off the bench, such as 5-11 junior Mackenzie Ginder and 5-7 junior Sabrina DiVito. Several Huskies who did not play in game one will also return from illness. The vast majority of players on the varsity roster are at least 5-8, giving the Huskies another edge this season.
“We thought that we had the pieces, but until you actually get in season … you can’t (know),” Fendley said. “They’ve got to figure out how to put the pieces together, coaches and players.”
After losing four of five starters to graduation from the 2020-21 team, the Libertyville Wildcats are looking to junior Emily Fisher to lead this new group.
The 6-0 Maryland recruit is taking that challenge personally, and says she’ll continue to stress the value of communication with her teammates. Donning a Terrapins sweatshirt, Fisher was optimistic after the Hersey loss.
“Communication is one thing everybody is going to have to get really good at at one point, and I think it’s something we can really improve on,” Fisher said. “And if we can get [that] down and get our heads up, it’ll be a game-changer for us.”
Fisher scored a game-high 23 points against the Huskies, 15 of which came in the second half. She also kick-started plenty of Wildcat scoring opportunities with outlet passes after tough rebounds.
Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen said Thursday was essentially the first varsity experience for his entire roster, minus Fisher and Kristina Kotzan, an effective 6-2 senior forward who scored nine points for Libertyville. Kotzan and 6-0 senior guard Libby Ryan are threats from beyond the arc, which will be key to Libertyville’s dangerous offense.
“We needed our kids to get their feet wet and see what the speed is going to be, see the strength it takes, and see what type of shooting they’re going to face against,” Pedersen said. “We saw pretty quickly what it’s going to take to defend in a varsity basketball game.”
And while Pedersen suggests Fisher will always have the green light to do as she sees fit during the course of the game, Fisher sees her role just as much in building up her teammates.
“I think they’re all trying to learn from the older players,” Fisher said of her less-experienced teammates. “Our role as the older people on the team is to be there to answer questions … and stay positive during games.”
Going forward, Pedersen said he wants his team to have more of an aggressive, attacking mindset, something that will come with more varsity playing time. Fisher, who says she wants to become a better mid-range and three-point shooter, will seek to help those around her grow in their confidence.
As the experience grows, expect this to be a team that evolves over the course of the season.