FVC follows Age-old formula

Cary-Grove's Olivia Jakubicek prepares to shoot Feb. 23 against DeKalb in a sectional title game in McHenry. Jakubicek, the Northwest Herald Player of the Year last season, returns for the Trojans.
Cary-Grove's Olivia Jakubicek prepares to shoot Feb. 23 against DeKalb in a sectional title game in McHenry. Jakubicek, the Northwest Herald Player of the Year last season, returns for the Trojans.

The departure of some of the area’s best girls basketball players because of graduation means many Fox Valley Conference teams plan to rely on defense as they build chemistry on offense.

Still, Cary-Grove and Huntley are expected to assert claim as the best team in the FVC Valley Division, relying on a mix of a tough, physical defense and playing smart on offense.

“Your team has got to play defense before you can give a darn about anything you do offensively,” C-G coach Rod Saffert said. “ ... And what I saw this summer from everybody, there was a lot more defensive work going on. I think it will be interesting.

“It’s certainly not going to be easy for any team in the conference.”

Huntley expects to compete for a conference title and put themselves in position to win a regional crown after losing to DeKalb in last season’s regional final. Similar to last year, Red Raiders coach Steve Raethz anticipates parity throughout the conference. Huntley boasts a roster littered with athletic players that will allow the Red Raiders to push the ball up the court in transition.

But the return of forward Sam Andrews and guard/forward Haley Ream, who combined to average nearly 24 points a game last year, provides consistent offense on par with C-G’s expected contributions from forward Olivia Jakubicek, the 2011 Northwest Herald Player of the Year, and guard/forward Joslyn Nicholson.

“It definitely helps having experience back,” Raethz said. “It’s something that we didn’t have last year, but it’s something we have coming into the season. We have players who started multiple seasons for us to come back and really provide that leadership and experience that we need, especially early on.”

Three programs in the FVC are eager to build their teams to contend after head coaching changes. Joe Benoit takes over at Jacobs after spending the past five seasons as the sophomore coach and varsity assistant coach. Rob Baker, who co-coached Prairie Ridge last year, was named the head coach, holding previous experience as the Wolves’ sophomore coach. Paul Lichtenheld joins Crystal Lake Central and will be aided by the return of three key contributors from last season.

Adapting to new systems will mean a bit of a learning curve, but Benoit said the Golden Eagles’ No. 1 goal is to bring pride back to the program.

“Our goal is to really come each night and bring a ton of energy and play the game with a lot of passion and pride for our school,” Benoit said. “ ... It’s going to be a work in progress, but the girls are really looking to take that next step forward and really put forth the work necessary to get back to competing at the top of our division.”

Dundee-Crown returns two starters from last year’s squad that finished second in the FVC Valley.

“When you lose a great scorer like Ali [Sanders], somebody has to step up,” Chargers coach Michelle Russell said. “The way I see it now, everybody is going to chip in and do their equal part.”

Grayslake Central is again the team to beat in the FVC Fox Division on the heels of a 12-0 finish in conference. The Rams have won back-to-back division titles. Grayslake North, who took second in the Fox Division, is expected to challenge their rival and end Central’s dominance. In its second season in the FVC Fox, Hampshire will be one of five teams jostling to overtake the Grayslake schools atop the division.

Although Johnsburg lost four starters on a team that won 10 games last season, Skyhawks coach Brad Frey believes their talented junior class could help them surprise teams in the FVC Fox.

“I’m hoping there is going to be three or four of us competing for the top,” Frey said.

The Big Northern Conference East Division should again come down to a battle between Richmond-Burton and Marengo, who shared the title last year. Jessica Ville, a senior forward and 2011 Northwest Herald All-Area first-team player, remains Marengo’s go-to scorer, while R-B senior guard/forward Alex Callanan is expected to take on a greater role offensively.

Marian Central again will rely on senior forward Shannon Wuensch as the Hurricanes try to improve on last year’s 3-7 record in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division.

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