In one season, Burlington Central went from sneaking up on opponents with lineup dominated by freshmen and sophomores to being the target of every team hoping to make a name for itself.
“Everyone knows what we’re about now,” said Mark Smith, the 2012-13 Courier-News Coach of the Year. “I’m sure there are a lot of teams out there with their calendar circled and they’ll be trying to get us. But we realize it.”
A year ago, the Rockets were 3:45 away from state, tied with Vernon Hills — the team that went on to beat powerful Montini. But Burlington Central faltered down the stretch of the supersectional to finish 27-5.
The Rockets lost senior starting guard Camille Delacruz and backup Erica Haynes, but the rest of the team remains intact, including all the scoring and rebounding leaders.
Quick defensive ace Kayla Ross, a sophomore, and sophomore three-point sharpshooter Shelby Holt are the top returning perimeter threats, while inside the Rockets have sophomores Sam Pryor and Rebecca Gerke and junior Alison Colby back to try for another run.
Holt finished second in the area with 56 three-pointers, while Colby was the area’s third-leading rebounder with 235.
“Alison is pretty versatile, can go outside but is looking stronger inside and demands the ball when she gets underneath,” Smith said.
Colby, Shelby and Pryor were the team’s top three scorers, while Ross got into the area top 20 in rebounds despite being a guard.
“It’s like with anything,” Smith said. “They’ve all gotten better with just another year of experience and maturation, and they’re all more familiar with what we want to do than when we started out last year so you expect they’ll be better.”
Pryor replaces Delacruz in the starting lineup. Aly DeTamble and Jacqueline Collins are two junior guards expected to get increased playing time off the bench, and sophomore Sam Cruz helps with backcourt depth, as well.
Returning guard Kathleen Ratzek is the only senior on the team. Forward Kayla Rafferty returns, and forward Cassandra Ciganek is a junior who was a key player for the sophomores last year.
With an eye on postseason, the Rockets have toughened up their regular-season schedule by moving to face Class 4A teams at the Dundee-Crown Christimas Tournament and will also play Fremd in the Chicagoland Prep Classic.
“What we’re trying to do is replicate the intensity and atmosphere we had in the supersectional game by facing competition from schools bigger than us,” Smith said. “We think we’ll run into good teams at Dundee-Crown and know Fremd is a top five team in the area, if not state, in 4A.”
Central opens at home in its own Thanksgiving tourney against Larkin on Wednesday.