Westminster Christian ready for Class 2A bump

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Natural progression alone could mean a postseason trip to Normal for Westminster Christian, except for one big question.

Westminster Christian went from being a sectional finalist to one step from state last year with a team that returns virtually intact. However, the Warriors will need to be sharper in the postseason because they’ve been boosted up to Class 2A from 1A with the IHSA’s rule attempting to level the playing field between public and private schools.

“We’ve toughed up our schedule a little to try to help us that way,” said Westminster coach Ken Flickinger, whose team went 26-5 and lost to Freeport Aquin in a supersectional last year.

The Warriors again will play Hampshire and Schaumburg while adding Walther Christian and Wheaton Academy in addition to Wisconsin’s Cuba City at a showcase at Dubuque, Iowa.

“We have about the same team but our seniors have really worked hard in the offseason,” said Flickinger, whose squad more than held its own in the Dundee-Crown summer league against larger schools.

Two Courier-News first-team All-Area players, senior guard McKaila Hays and sophomore forward Maddie Versluys, lead a Warriors team that defensively led the area by holding opponents to 31.4 points per game. Versluys (5-10) averaged 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds and the 5-7 Hays added 10.3 points and 3.1 assists.

“Maddie has worked a lot at her shot and she should be able to score in more ways,” Flickinger said. “McKaila’s shot looks good. I think we’re all looking to be better with our shooting than last year.”

The interior defense looks to be stronger as 6-1 junior forward Savannah Dutcher has improved and 5-11 senior center Claire Speweik returns after averaging eight points and 6.2 rebounds.

Seniors Courtney Gnan (5-7) and Kinsley Donahue (5-9) in the backcourt and senior frontcourt players Libbie Atchison (5-8), Liz Meschewski (5-10), Emma Anderson and Christina Cusumano (5-6) are back as is junior guard Emma Kovachevich (5-4).

Westminster’s press was responsible for many of the 18.6 steals a game, and the Warriors have installed a few other twists.

“Most plays might normally have four to 25 sequences and we’ve gotten more complex and have plays with 25 sequences,” Flickinger said. “We’ve got a jumbo lineup with all our big girls and a few new defenses.”

Westminster opens Monday at the Somonauk tournament against Sandwich.

Harvest Christian

Junior guard Kylee Knox returns for Harvest Christian after averaging 12.4 points, ninth best in the area, but this time she has some help.

Along with 6-foot returning starting center Rachel Oostdyk (6 points), a sophomore, the Lions also will have 5-8 junior guard/forward Morgan Lockwood back and a handful of newcomers who are inspiring hope — including 6-1 senior volleyball star Sydney Doby at center.

Fifth-year coach Kelly Friestad, whose team went 7-20 last year, can expect more help inside from junior forwards Alex Rayappa (5-10) and Gabi Rodriguez (5-9) and in the backcourt from senior Aliyah Ellis (5-7) and sophomores Cellie Carrillo (5-8) and Hannah Hendricks (5-5).

Injuries depleted the Lions last year, so Friestad said “staying healthy” is a key to the season.

The Lions hope to do a better job taking care of the basketball and making layups this season, according to Friestad, who expects a stronger defensive effort.

Elgin Academy

Second-year Hilltoppers coach Bill Rodriguez will be a lot like Gene Hackman as Norman Dale in “Hoosiers,” and not because his team expects to win state. The Hilltoppers have only seven players. They also have no fresh-soph team, so following up on last year’s 10-14 season will be difficult.

“We’ll have to conserve energy by playing a lot of 2-3 and 3-2 zone, and we’re working harder at conditioning,” Rodriguez said. “Our middle school programs have good turnouts, but it’s the present we’re worried about and we’ll do what we can.”

Junior Kaitlyn Pearson and senior Susanna Cain are the key returning players. Cain is the top leading returning scorer at five points a game. Sophomores Elizabeth Clements and Elizabeth Clemments also have key roles.

“Everybody will need to be able to handle the ball,” Rodriguez said. “We’re doing a lot of work on our shooting.”

Genoa-Kingston

After a disappointing 1-11 Big Northern East season and 2-25 year overall, the Cogs look for a big rebound behind returning two-time All-Big Northern East senior forward Andrea Strohmaier.

Senior starting guard Katie Thurlby and centers Courtney Winters and Kristen Bussen also return for a Cogs team that is relatively young.

Guard Kayleigh Engles and forwards Karli Lancaste and Gina Calendo are juniors who figure prominently for G-K, which opens at home Monday against Indian Creek and then plays in the Harvard tournament.


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