Neuqua Valley, Naperville Central lead 20-win teams

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There was a great deal of balance among the Naperville area girls high school basketball teams this season.

Four teams — Neuqua Valley, Naperville Central, Metea Valley and Benet — finished with ten losses or fewer, and sported a combined record of 94-28.

The Wildcats (27-4), who went to the sectional finals before losing to Bolingbrook, won the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title with a team made up mostly of underclassmen.

Among the regulars only captain Allison Hedrick, who blossomed as a senior, will graduate, so coach Mike Williams will have the players who will again thrive in the Wildcats pressing defense and up-tempo offense.

Junior forward Najee Smith emerged as a star this year, excelling on defense and under the boards, while being able to score both inside and outside.

Malia Smith, Najee’s twin, who has been a starter since her freshman year, gives the Wildcats a steady presence at the point and 6-foot-2 sophomore Bryce Menendez became a force inside.

Add returning starter Niki Lazar and a group of talented reserves who will step into bigger roles, and you have the recipe for a team that should be even better next year.

“Even more than their success on the court, this team had character,” said Williams. “It’s a scrappy, blue-collar team and the future looks promising.”

Naperville Central (25-7) had an atypical season because for the first time in five years the Redhawks did not win or share the DuPage Valley title.

Though they went 9-5 in conference, the Redhawks cleaned up in their nonconference schedule, winning just about everything including the Tip-off Classic, the Oswego East Tournament and the Benet Regional.

The tall and talented front line of Victoria Trowbridge, Jamie Cuny and Laura Dierking graduates, leaving the Redhawks without a returning starter over 6-foot tall for the first time this century.

Guards Shannon Ryan, Cierra Stanciel and Emily Kraft form the team’s nucleus going forward. Haley Minick, a 5-foot-10 sophomore who saw a great deal of action this year, will lead the contingent of up-and-coming frontcourt people.

“We’re going to have to work really hard next year to compensate for our lack of height,” said coach Andy Nussbaum.

Metea Valley amassed a 22-7 record and finished second in the Upstate Eight Valley, despite losing key starters Anna Petersen and Bria Walker, who each suffered a torn ACL during the season.

Lori Obendorf continued to operate at her customary high level, averaging double figures in both scoring and rebounding, and starters Nia Flowers and Jenny Voytell took on added responsibilities.

Coach Kris Kalivas also received valuable contributions from Kellee Clay and Kate Lawrence, who responded to the call when they were given more playing time.

“The injuries were tough,” said Kalivas. “That wasn’t the way we planned the season to go. But, only three years after our first team went 7-22, we were 22-7, won the Oswego East Christmas Tournament and went 10-2 in conference. That’s a tribute to our senior class and how much those girls have grown and the leadership they’ve provided.”

Flowers, Voytell, Clay and Lawrence will return next year.

Benet (20-10) had the best player in the area in senior Christen Prasse, and a deep squad of talented, sharpshooting, not-so-tall underclassmen in whose hands the Redwings program should continue to thrive.

Emily Schramek, Emily Eshoo, Eden Olson and freshman point guard Kathleen Doyle will lead a deep group of returning players on a very promising team facing life after Prasse.

“These players matured a great deal this season,” said coach Peter Paul. “We were a team that had to shoot the ball to be successful and most of the season we did. There will be some adjustments we have to make next year without Chrissie.”

Naperville North (14-14) started putting it together for the second half of the DVC season and the Huskies were a much better team down the stretch.

Four-year starting guard Zoe Swift graduates but forward Kayla Sharples is a coming star and she’ll be helped by veterans Morganne Freeman, Cece Pope and Delaney White as the Huskies aim for a better start next time.

Waubonsie Valley (4-22) will still be a work-in-progress as coach Dave Owles builds on the steps his really young Warriors took this year. Ryaen Johnson and Kendall O’Sullivan are two who will lead Waubonsie.

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