Depth and versatility.
Those are the top two reasons Marian Catholic will start as the SouthtownStar’s preseason No. 1 team.
They also are the top two reasons Spartans coach Annie Byrne has a “special” feeling about the 2012-13 campaign.
“They do a great job at their positions, but they’re not limited to just one position,” Byrne said. “So you can move them around, change things up, within the same eight. It’s pretty exciting. We’re going to be fun to watch.”
In all, the Spartans return nine players from last year’s 21-12 squad. They’re led by sophomore point guard Teniya Page, junior guard Ashton Millender and 6-foot-1 senior forward Megan Walsh.
Millender averaged 12.8 points and was among the area leaders in three-pointers with 66. She’s explosive, a game-changer. And she’s still growing.
“There is a lot of excitement about her,” Byrne said. “She wears a size-12 shoe, too. So imagine if she grows another two inches and becomes 6-foot doing what she’s doing and continuing to grow on the court as she has been.”
The Truman State-bound Walsh averaged 10.7 points and was the team leader in rebounding and steals. Page can score and also run the offense, while senior guard Aliyah Isaac is an aggressive defender.
Among the newcomers to watch are 6-foot sophomore guard/forward Kauai Bradley, who is playing her first full season of basketball after two anterior cruciate ligament injuries; Davidson-bound senior guard Melanie Ransom (a transfer from Walther Lutheran) and junior guard Dorian Adams (the leading scorer on the sophomore team last season).
Here’s a look at the rest of the Top 10 (last season’s record in parentheses).
2. MARIST (32-2)
The RedHawks suffered a huge blow when they lost senior guard Claire Ryan to an ACL injury. Ryan, who seemed to be able to find her way to every loose ball, is expected to return in January, according to coach Mary Pat Connolly. In the meantime, the RedHawks should remain competitive behind the big two of Marquette-bound JeTaun Rouse (12.4 ppg) and senior forward Leah Bolton (14.1 ppg), who will attend Illinois. Hannah Michalek figures to be stronger in the post as a senior, while Claire Finn and Bria Stallworth also are expected to play major roles.
3. HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR (23-7)
The Vikings had 32.3 points per game graduate with Charnelle Reed, Amena Brent and Danielle Woolfolk, but still have two Division I returnees in senior guards Sydni Johnson (Howard) and Lauren Parker (Northern Iowa). The 5-11 Johnson averaged 7.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, while Parker averaged 7.1 points per contest. Junior forward Jaiveonna Norris (5.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) also is back, along with senior guard Chardae Greenlee, a transfer from T.F. North who spent her freshman and sophomore seasons at H-F.
4. HILLCREST (28-4)
The Hawks have made it to state three straight seasons. Getting there a fourth time isn’t going to be easy. Senior guard Dana Gettis (9.0 ppg), senior forward Mariam Awoniyi (8.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and senior center Lorielle Little are the core around which Hawks coach John Maniatis will be building one of his least-experienced teams in some time. Look for increased minutes for playmaking senior guard Destini Artis. Juniors Tierra Sanders, Sherrise Heady and Nadika Jackson also were members of last year’s Class 3A third-place finisher. Among the newcomers, Aliah Acker was the leading scorer at the sophomore level.
5. BLOOM (16-9)
Blazing Trojans coach Ron Newquist expects a deep run in the state playoffs, and if the assemblage of talent he has jells, he’ll likely be right. Senior center Bria Gaines, who led the area in scoring last season at 27.4 points per game (with 16.8 rebounds per contest), is part of a threesome of leaders that also includes sophomore guards Kat Strong (12.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 8.4 apg) and 5-5 Danielle King (15.9 ppg, 8.9 apg, 5.3 spg). King transferred from Rich East. Newquist also is expecting big things from freshmen Jailyn Lumpkin and Anika Johnson.
6. MORGAN PARK (22-9)
Thomas Johnson has had a pretty good run (241-125) during his eight seasons as coach, and despite the loss of Kendyl Nunn (Toledo), Gabrielle Richmond (St. Bonaventure) and Debra Jenkins (St. Francis) to graduation he should have enough to stay competitive this time around in the Windy City South. The Mustangs will be guard-heavy: Among the nine returnees are senior guards Kierra Graves (10.2 ppg), Shami Goodman (9.5 ppg), Kiara Carter, Tristan Anderson and Bhrea Griffin.
7. LINCOLN-WAY EAST (26-5)
With Caitlin McMahon and Taylor Johnson off to college, Griffins coach Jim Martin will turn to four experienced players in 5-11 senior forward Meaghan McMahon, junior guard Dana O’Grady, senior forward Marissa DeGroot and senior guard Nathalie Hill. Junior guard Kara Krolicki brings an additional outside shooting threat. At 6-foot, freshman Claire McMahon, the younger sister of Caitlin and Meaghan, likely will be a starter, according to Martin.
8. MOTHER MCAULEY (18-11)
New coach Ashley Luke Clanton has plenty to work with, including senior guard Alyssa Siwek (12.5 ppg), who led the team in scoring and earned All-Area recognition. Junior guard Elizabeth Nye was the second-leading scorer and set the tempo on the court. Senior guard Kristen Kleist is a defensive stopper, while 5-10 senior Maggie Graney Dolan and 5-11 junior Lauren Carlson bring some size underneath.
9. SANDBURG (16-13)
The Eagles have a ton of returning talent, the most certainly during Chris Hellrung’s tenure. What they don’t have is height, which Hellrung is hoping they’ll make up for in speed and intensity. The offensive leaders likely will be point guard Carly Katalinic (8.0 ppg, 4.0 ppg) and shooting guard Rachel Ruzevich (8.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg). Other returnees who contributed last season are Ashley Youngwirth, Brittney Munoz and Kelly Pocza. Sam Youngwirth is projected as the top newcomer.
10. OAK LAWN (18-8)
The Spartans have had 11 straight winning seasons, and this group easily should give coach Janet Haubenreiser her 12th. Four of five starters return, including energy-packed junior guard LaTondra Brookes (17.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 5.6 spg). Junior Brooke Annerino (11.6 ppg) is in her third year on the varsity and runs the point well. Junior center Jannah Mahmoud (7.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg) had an improved second half last season, and with senior Jill Steigerwald (5.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) also back, they should make a nice 6-foot duo underneath.
ON THE CUSP
Andrew caught a tough break last season when 6-1 forward Molly Franson, who as a freshman led the team in scoring and rebounding, had to sit after having knee surgery. She’s back and healthy as a junior. Loyola-bound Tiana Karopulos also is back, along with Amy Jendra, Georgia Alexakos and Kelsey Lafin.
Rich South coach Brian Mays is extremely excited about a team led by backcourt senior twins CiErra and DeAsia Garrett, sophomores Tierra Webb and Tierney Lockett, senior center Verneisha Anderson and a 6-foot freshman Dasia Evans.
Stagg also could find its way into the rankings behind dynamic guard Revi McMahon. Her sister, Casey, along with Alexa Janus, Ali Conrad, Carrie Sinclair and Hannah Henderson, all bring varsity experience.
Lincoln-Way North can’t be discounted with three solid returnees in Leigh LaRocco, Ellen Graham and Ashley Weringa, who finished second in the three-point shootout at state last season.